PHNOM PEHN: Thousands of supporters of Cambodia’s defiant opposition rallied yesterday to demand an independent probe into July elections they say were rigged to prolong the rule of a prime minister now facing his biggest political challenge in two decades.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the amalgamation of what was once an impotent opposition to Hun Sen’s iron-fisted rule, claims it actually won the election and has vowed to hold protests until their demand was met and urged the international community to disregard the result of the national poll.
The long-dominant Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has denied foul play and Hun Sen has said he will ignore the opposition challenge and forge ahead with forming a government.
The CPP won the election with a reduced majority, signalling dissatisfaction with his government, despite rapid economic growth and success in reducing poverty.
“We’re here today ...to seek justice for voters who demand an independent committee to investigate election irregularities,” CNRP leader Sam Rainsy told a crowd of about 20,000 people at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, the only venue where demonstrations are allowed.
“We must end violence and impunity,” said Rainsy, who returned from self-imposed exile to bolster the opposition’s election campaign. “The forests are gone, the farmland is gone, there’s no jobs, our youth has no future. We must work together to rescue the nation.”
The CNRP has urged supporters not to march in the city, fearing violence could easily erupt.
Hun Sen’s CPP has said it won 68 of the 123 parliamentary seats in the election, compared to the CNRP’s 55 seats, a hefty loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.
But CNRP maintains it won 63 seats to the CPP’s 60 and Rainsy has accused the CPP of colluding with the National Election Committee to steal 2.3 million votes from his party.