With a major opposition rally planned for this afternoon in Phnom Penh, City Hall and Ministry of Interior officials were at odds with CNRP leaders on Sunday over how many people would be allowed to attend the event.
Though the Interior Ministry has said only 6,000 people will be allowed into Freedom Park, the opposition said it could not guarantee how many people would attend the event to listen to CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.
“It is impossible to follow what the Ministry of Interior says,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Sunday. “But we can keep our word that there will be no demonstrations tomorrow and we can keep our word on the time by ending the rally by 6 [p.m.] or 6:30 [p.m.]”
“It is difficult to predict how many people will join. Unlike a communist regime, where they send a letter of invitation and force people to come, we are democrats and in free society. We cannot tell you how many people will come to a rally,” he added.
However, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Sunday that the CNRP had agreed to demands to limit the crowd size, though he did not know how they would be enforced.
“We requested that [the CNRP] have only 5,000 people for the rally, and they agreed and said they will limit the number of their supporters. I don’t know anything else,” Mr. Dimanche said.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, who announced on Friday that the CNRP’s rally must be kept to less than 6,000 people, said Sunday, when asked how authorities would control crowd size, that the line of questioning was ill-intentioned.
“Your question doesn’t have good intentions. Do you want to see a crackdown or what?” he said.
Over the weekend, CNRP president Sam Rainsy and vice president Kem Sokha toured the country holding rallies that have drawn sizeable crowds in Kandal, Kompong Cham and Siem Reap provinces.
In videos posted to their Facebook accounts, their main message has been one of appreciation for voters who supported them in the July 28 election, which they claim to have won despite contradictory results from the National Election Committee showing a CPP victory.
The last time that the opposition leaders addressed a crowd in Phnom Penh was on August 6, when about 5,000 people showed up to attend a rally. However, as opposed to today’s rally, which has been promoted over the radio and on Facebook for the past week, that rally received little hype.
Freedom Park, where Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha are set to arrive at 4 p.m. today, was quiet and desolated Sunday, save a few groups of car salesman sitting in the shade of trees with their vehicles parked along the surrounding streets.
One of the salesmen, Keo Sothy, 38, said that he did not expect today’s rally to get out of hand as the leaders were simply testing their supporters’ mood before deciding how to move forward as they try to break the political impasse with the ruling CPP.
“They are coming here to test…the feelings of their supporters. I don’t believe that there will be any sort of violence because our politicians and people now have more knowledge about how to solve problems peacefully,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)