Speaking to more than 10,000 supporters at a mass rally Monday in Phnom Penh, opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha said that unless the ruling CPP cooperated in forming an impartial committee to investigate election irregularities within two weeks, the CNRP will hold nationwide mass demonstrations.
“We will demonstrate before [the National Election Committee] announces an official election result,” Mr. Rainsy told the raucous crowd, which packed into Freedom Park and spilled into the surrounding streets.
“We are pushing to create a fair and independent committee to investigate election irregularities. If they don’t create an independent committee, we will hold a demonstration,” Mr. Rainsy added.
The NEC has said that the Constitutional Council of Cambodia will confirm final election results no later than September 8, allowing a new government to form by the end of next month.
The CNRP has alleged widespread manipulation of voter lists and identity fraud engineered by the CPP in cooperation with the NEC. After two rounds of negotiations over the past three weeks, the CPP and CNRP have made no progress in deciding what group would head a committee to investigate the scale and impact of election irregularities.
Mr. Sokha echoed Mr. Rainsy’s threats of a demonstration if a solution to the current impasse is not presented, and said that any National Assembly formed without the CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers would quickly “disappear.”
“If the NEC, Constitutional Council and CPP will not agree to create a fair committee with independent investigators and the U.N. as observers in order to find election irregularities, massive demonstrations will happen everywhere,” Mr. Sokha said.
“If they do not find justice for us, we [CNRP lawmakers] will not join the meeting of the National Assembly. If the CNRP lawmakers don’t join, they will have a meeting with only 68 lawmakers, which would be an illegitimate National Assembly,” Mr. Sokha said.
Were the National Assembly to validate a new government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, his power would also be illegitimate, Mr. Sokha said.
“If both the National Assembly and the prime minister are illegitimate, they will both become ill and disappear. If they dare to create this by themselves, they will disappear because the international community will not recognize them,” Mr. Sokha said.
In his last public remarks on August 2, Mr. Hun Sen said that should the CNRP boycott the National Assembly in protest of election results, their seats would legally be given to the CPP, the only other party with elected representatives in the National Assembly.
The NEC released preliminary election results on August 12 that supported claims made by the CPP on the evening of election day that it won 68 out of 123 National Assembly seats.
However, since election day, the CNRP has said it would accept nothing less than victory and the removal of the CPP from power following the election, which Mr. Rainsy has claimed the opposition won with 63 seats to the CPP’s 60.
At Monday’s rally, Mr. Sokha reiterated the CNRP’s claim of victory, which they say is based on data collected by their representatives at polling stations, though the opposition has yet to provide evidence in support of this claim.
“Our Cambodia National Rescue Party is the party that got the real win. We thank all the people who rightly decided to vote for the CNRP. It means that you voted for the fall of the present leaders that are communist, corrupt, partisan, nepotistic and who caused damage to our country’s property,” Mr. Sokha said.
Since announcing the rally last week, the CNRP has insisted that it would not be a protest or demonstration, but rather a gathering in which opposition leaders would meet peacefully with supporters, a promise that was kept.
And despite warnings from the Ministry of Interior that the number of people at the rally would not be allowed to exceed 6,000 people, the size of the crowd was almost double that, with people seated in front of the stage, rows of supporters standing behind them and another tier of people behind them standing on their motorbikes.
Despite a visible buildup of security forces and heavy weaponry in Phnom Penh over the past three weeks—since Mr. Rainsy first raised the specter of mass demonstrations should the CPP not meet the opposition’s demands for an investigation—there was little security presence at Monday’s event.
Nonetheless, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that the government stood by its position that it would not tolerate unsanctioned demonstrations.
“The government is a neutral body. Our mandate is to protect the freedom and liberty of the people and maintain law and order. The conflict between politicians and politicians should be solved in an appropriate manner,” he said.
“The government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands, no matter who they are, politicians or not politicians,” he said, adding that the CNRP’s claims of election irregularities had yet to be substantiated with convincing evidence.
“[Avoiding a demonstration] depends on the opposition party. They have to recognize the rule of law and technical fact [that they lost the election],” he added.
But despite government promises to quash demonstrations that are illegal or turn violent, a procession of CNRP supporters joined Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha on the stage set up for Monday’s rally to express their commitment to joining a demonstration if called on by the opposition leaders.
Yen Rotanaksotheavy, a monk dressed in saffron robes who said he was part of election-day protests outside a polling station near the Stung Meanchey pagoda, said that he was willing to give his life as part of the CNRP’s struggle for change.
“I dare to devote my life to find justice for the people. We are Cambodian so we must love Cambodians,” he said.
Another young woman who took the stage said that she was willing to stand up to the government, regardless of how heavy-handed it was in trying to suppress mass demonstrations.
“Present day Cambodia is without fear. We are not scared of tanks. Even if they had nuclear weapons, I would not be scared [to demonstrate],” she said.