Hundreds of demonstrators including NGO workers and Buddhist monks staged a march in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, calling for a nonviolent conclusion to the national election, in which both the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP have claimed victory.
At least 200 demonstrators under the umbrella of the Working Group for Peace organization met in front of the Royal Palace and marched to Wat Phnom, where they joined forces with a similar-sized congregation led by the outspoken activist monk Luon Sovath.
Brandishing Buddhist flags and banners bearing statements such as “Cambodians Want Peace, Not Crackdowns” and “Peace is Patriotic, Violence Betrays Our Hopes,” the demonstrators said they were marching in response to aggressive rhetoric from both the CPP and CNRP.
After leading the crowd in prayer, Luon Sovath took aim at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s August 2 declaration that any demonstrations against the CPP’s election victory would be met by rallies in support of the ruling party and that chaos would ensue in the streets forcing businesses to shut down.
“The CPP demonstrate? Demonstrate for what? They have no injustice. They have all the power—the TV, the radio, the NEC, everything,” Luon Sovath said. “Demonstrating is for victims.”
“They want to use demonstrations to silence demonstrations. They want to use people power to silence the people. This is not a good resolution.”
Kol Preap, executive director at Transparency International Cambodia, who was present at the peace rally, said he was wary of the ramifications of opposition supporters protesting the election result. CNRP leaders have said that mass demonstrations would come as a last resort if the party does not get an independent inquiry into irregularities at the polls.
“The political heat seems to have risen in the past week as the two main parties failed to agree on the election result,” Mr. Preap said.
“We are concerned that if there is no solution soon, it may escalate further and there could be an uprising.”
“Mass demonstrations are unpredictable,” he said. “The capacity of the authorities and of the party leaders to manage the crowd is very limited. If it begins, we can’t predict what will happen.”
Prak Sokhany, who as a member of the Working Group for Peace, which helped coordinate Wednesday’s demonstration, said that little by little, the message of nonviolence was being heard.
“I notice the police coming very close to our group and trying to hear what message we are giving today,” she said. “The police have been very friendly and I think they understand what we are saying.”
“But in the end, we can’t control the police officer. His actions must come from his heart.”
Mony Soth, a 27-year-old traffic police officer deployed to man the entrance to the Royal Palace during the demonstration, made his allegiances clear.
“I am policeman. I work for the people, not the government.”