After Surprise Results, Calls For Calm, Vigilance

The U.S. Embassy reissued a warning Sunday night to its citizens to remain vigilant and avoid crowds in the wake of a largely peaceful day at the polls that culminated in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) calling a win, but with a significantly reduced majority.

Against a backdrop of innumerable disgruntled people turned away from polling stations and a breakout of violence in which a man was beaten and two military police cars set alight in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, scores of military police and trucks were deployed late afternoon to Sihanouk and Suramarit boulevards, which were temporarily cordoned off along with Norodom Boulevard in the vicinity of the Interior Ministry.

A degree of apprehension over further unrest set in outside an Acleda Bank branch on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, where a queue of about 30 people formed at an ATM during the early evening as people waited to withdraw cash fearing further election violence. On Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, a long line of cars formed at a petrol station and one vehicle was seen filling dozens of large canisters full of fuel at around 6 p.m.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said by telephone that while irregularities uncovered during the vote needed to be addressed, the general conduct demonstrated during the election was worth applauding.

“We congratulate the Cambodian people on a peaceful election. This is an historic step in Cambodia’s democratic development. We urge all parties and their supporters to continue to act in an orderly and peaceful manner in the post-election period,” he said.

“We are aware of reported irregularities, and we have consistently called on the Royal Government to address systemic flaws in the voter registry and other shortcomings. We call on the National Election Committee to transparently and fully investigate all credible reports of irregularities and take appropriate action as needed.

“We note civil society’s robust effort to monitor the electoral process. We will be reviewing a broad range of information in the coming weeks as we evaluate the election results,” he added.

In a statement on its website, the embassy urged U.S. citizens to exercise caution over the next few days as the ramifications of Sunday’s result sinks in.

“Due to the potential for civil unrest over the next few days, the U.S. Embassy encourages U.S. citizens to limit their movements, avoid areas prone to gatherings, and immediately vacate any area where crowds are gathering,” it said.

“Rival groups may take to the streets and public areas to express their political views. Demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence without warning,” the embassy added.

In a televised address broadcast on Television Kampuchea Sunday night after Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced that the CPP took 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the day had gone smoothly.

“In short, the situation on security and order in general for the election of the National Assembly for the fifth mandate—even though there was some bother and obstructions in exercising the rights of the people in the election—the situation was relatively calm, and there were no big problems that have impacted the electoral process,” Mr. Kheng said.

At a press conference given before the CPP’s information minister announced that party’s version of the results, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, called for calm after what they called an historic day for the country.

“We call on those who declare to be CNRP youth to refrain from any form of violence and any act that could create problems for other people and jeopardize public security and order,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that people must obey the rule of law.

“We appeal to people not to do anything that could threaten the physical integrity, freedom and dignity of anybody.”

Mr. Rainsy and CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said separately that they would refrain from commenting on the outcome of the election until the official result is made public.

Speaking at a press conference given Sunday night, Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, agreed that the lead-up to the election this year had been more peaceful than previous years.

“The election campaign environment was better, there was fewer violence and critical incidents,” he said.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said that the number of irregularities and incidents recorded by Comfrel was on par with 2008, but said that a more comprehensive report on the elections would not be completed until next month.

Speaking after a press conference at Comfrel’s Phnom Penh offices, Mr. Panha said that he hoped leaders of the CPP and CNRP would do their part to ensure that the election atmosphere remains peaceful in the days to come.

“I hope that the maturity of politicians and political parties will solve any potential problems,” he said.

(Lauren Crothers, Kim Chan, Khuon Narim, Colin Meyn and Denise Hruby)

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