The opposition CNRP has called on its supporters to gather in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Monday for a large rally, though party leaders insisted that the event would be peaceful and not considered to be a demonstration against contested national election results.
In a statement signed by CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Wednesday, the party called for “compatriots, especially the youth, to participate in discussions during this large gathering.”
Though the statement did not specify why exactly the rally had been called, Mr. Sovann said Wednesday he hoped “as many people as possible” would join the rally with CNRP president Sam Rainsy and vice president Kem Sokha, which he said will be promoted over Facebook, on the radio and through party activists on the ground.
The statement also says Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha will spend three days holding rallies in Kandal, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces prior to the event in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Rainsy said Wednesday the rally in Phnom Penh was being held to inform opposition supporters of the current political situation and explain the party’s plan in the coming weeks.
“We will just inform…the voters that the situation is stalled. That there is apparently no good will on the part of the CPP to push the NEC [National Election Committee] or ensure that the Constitutional Council would order the NEC” to cooperate in a transparent investigation, Mr. Rainsy said.
The Constitutional Council is expected to rule on preliminary polling results released by the NEC before September 8, when results will be finalized. A new National Assembly is scheduled to convene by the end of September, two months after the parliamentary election.
Mr. Rainsy said that Monday’s rally will not be a “demonstration,” but rather a “gathering,” as the opposition party is still hopeful that the CPP might move forward in working with the CNRP to conduct a transparent investigation into the July 28 ballot.
“This is not a march. A march would be a kind of demonstration; a protest that can have some unexpected consequences. But this kind of gathering in one place, we know how to handle it. The authorities know that this is completely peaceful, there is no risk [of violence] whatsoever,” Mr. Rainsy added.
Though Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng have both warned of chaos and trouble should opposition rallies turn violent, police and Ministry of Interior officials said Wednesday that the CNRP’s planned rally was not in violation of the law.
“I understand that the people ought to be able to express their ideas, but don’t use violence. If there is a protest, please protest peacefully and without violence,” said military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito.
If violence were to occur, Brig. Gen. Tito said that security forces were prepared to restore order.
“We have prepared equipment including fire trucks, machinery and thousands of military police and police forces to keep public order and security and we are prepared to crackdown if any violence occurs,” he said.
Lieutenant General Sok Phal, deputy National Police commissioner, said that he was not concerned about conflict arising from the rally.
“It seems that nothing is going to happen. This is not a demonstration, I think it is a rally at the city level,” he said.
Following Mr. Rainsy’s threats to hold mass demonstrations if its demands for an investigation are not met, Mr. Kheng said that CNRP rallies must remain within Freedom Park, and warned that leaders of protests that turn violent will face the consequences of the law.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that as long as the CNRP rally followed these rules, he saw no reason why it could not go forward.
“If the demonstration abides by the law that is OK, but we hope that there will be no violence. Everybody must obey the law, which also provides for their safety,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy reiterated Wednesday that the opposition party would only call for large-scale demonstrations as a last resort if “all other bridges have been cut” in the CNRP’s efforts to investigate what it alleges was widespread electoral manipulation and fraud orchestrated by the CPP in cooperation with the NEC.
“Suppose that nothing happens. In 20 days, the Constitutional Council proclaims results exactly similar to what the NEC proclaimed, which is in turn was exactly similar to what [the] CPP proclaimed, and there are no other avenues. There is no negotiating whatsoever and all bridges have been cut. This would be the last resort,” he said.