Opposition supporters have had varying reactions to the CNRP’s announcement Monday that a mass demonstration planned for this weekend would be framed as a day of prayer rather than protest, but said they would still turn out.
And while the CNRP’s efforts to explain their decision, which they said was made following a letter from King Norodom Sihamoni calling for calm, seems to have convinced most of their supporters, some have expressed frustration on social media sites over the past two days.
Those concerns have been expressed on Facebook, where opposition supporters fear the CNRP may be backing down due to government pressure or is softening its demand to conduct an investigation into alleged irregularities in the July 28 election.
“Hun Sen…scared of people power now, if protests don’t go ahead, he will win hands down and laugh,” wrote a Facebook user named Pha Chhorn.
“This is his win-win, and the CNRP lose-lose. The CNRP already won, but they put up their hands for defeat—later on, Hun Sen will mock them…. People all over the country can’t wait to go out for demos. This is the chance to act—no vacillation,” Pha Chhorn wrote.
“I don’t think it’s going to work,” another Facebook user, Keo Dara, said of the CNRP’s plans for a prayer rally.
“We must do something while the youth’s blood is still boiling, otherwise, nothing good will come out. The longer we take, the weaker we are and Hun Sen will gain strength. Hun Sen wants to buy time, time is on his side now,” Keo Dara wrote.
The vast majority of Facebook comments, however, were positive of the switch to prayer from protests, and opposition supporters in Phnom Penh and online were largely upbeat Tuesday, expressing their excitement over joining the CNRP on Saturday.
“You can inform to all supporter of Hun Sen they can’t destroy the love we have for our country and the hunger we have for the Democracy! Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Sam Rainsy will be a leader for a Free Cambodia! Change We Can, Change it will be on September 7th!” wrote a Facebook user named Mara Seng on Tuesday.
“I still support Sam Rainsy’s position, he is carefully thinking before a mass protest occur, demonstration cannot be too rush, demonstration is the last option if election result cannot [find] justice,” wrote Facebook user Polin Sam.
Several older opposition supporters who were talking politics Tuesday afternoon at an outdoor cafe on Phnom Penh’s Street 178 echoed the optimism of many young CNRP supporters online.
“The leaders have decided to execute nonviolent demonstrations. I think this is more effective. A lot of people are into this idea because [during opposition protests] in 1998, there were many problems,” said Mao Phath, 65, a retired auditor at the Finance Ministry.
In 1997, 16 people were killed at an opposition rally near the National Assembly being led by Mr. Rainsy. Opposition protests following contested elections in 1998 also turned violent.
“I don’t think the CNRP are scared of the government. I think they don’t want a clash because right now people are getting excited, and there are not so many well-educated in our country and Cambodia is just getting to know what democracy is,” Mr. Phath said.
Ra Morn, 74, who was wearing a shirt with both lapels emblazoned with the face of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, said that he thought the CNRP would eventually be successful in their efforts to investigate the election because they were supported by almost 3 million voters.
“I think they can do it because so many people voted for them. I don’t think we are going to get change by praying, but we need to move one step at a time,” he said.
“I think they just want to test how many people are going to participate this time. They will see the amount and then they will do something else,” he added.