With Prime Minister Hun Sen and his loyal generals promising to prevent anti-government demonstrations at any cost, the CNRP on Wednesday said it would not be cowed and was pressing ahead with plans for a mass protest in Phnom Penh.
Following the CNRP’s announcement that it would hold a demonstration to protest last week’s conviction of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, dozens of military trucks carrying masked and armed soldiers spent Monday night driving outside the CNRP headquarters.
On the same night, Mr. Hun Sen warned people against becoming “addicted to demonstrations” and vowed in a Facebook post to rid the country of forces that “destroy social order.”
Speaking to about 100 supporters at the CNRP’s headquarters on Wednesday, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the party was not afraid.
“We are not worried about your intimidation,” Mr. Chhay said. “I want to say that using your weapons to intimidate us is illegal.”
On August 31, the military deployed helicopters above the CNRP’s headquarters in Meanchey district and parked boats mounted with machine guns on the banks of the Tonle Bassac river behind the building.
“The government cannot use its weapons to intimidate the people. The duty of the army—the armed forces—is to protect security and territory. You used national forces to threaten your people,” Mr. Chhay said. “This is an illegal act.”
“This will not benefit the nation or the government,” he added. “When you fly around [in helicopters] and people take those photographs to post and share around the world, the world will accuse you of using military power or being a junta government.”
Mr. Chhay said the party would hold an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements on October 23, but said that gathering was separate from the mass demonstration being planned.
He said no date had been set for the planned protest, though supporters were already sending supplies such as water, rice and fish sauce.
Mr. Sokha was sentenced on Friday to five months in prison for refusing to appear in court over a case widely believed to be politically motivated. No effort has since been made to arrest him as he remains holed up in the opposition headquarters.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan reiterated that the government was prepared to use force to prevent the opposition from holding demonstrations.
“They have declared that they are not scared because they think they will benefit” by demonstrating, he said. “But the government’s stance is that, whether it is a big or small demonstration, it will not be allowed.”
“I think their demonstration is an effort to threaten the legal government, which was created by the will of the people. You lost elections five times and want a shortcut —it is not possible,” he said.
“All branches of the armed forces are ready. They are only waiting for orders.”
Meas Ny, an independent political analyst, said he believed the opposition had little choice but to resort to public protests given the political situation, but said posturing on both sides was plunging society into a “bonfire of fear.”
“The CNRP just wants to tell their supporters not to think that the CNRP has given up the struggle,” he said.
“I see the opposition party seems to be in a deadlock and there is no choice beside gathering the people, while the ruling party also has no option apart from using armed forces to crack down on the people.”