Government officials over the weekend warned that opposition leader Sam Rainsy could face legal action for comments he made on his Facebook page that called on the public to woo the country’s armed forces into supporting the CNRP and put an end to decades of CPP rule.
“Today we saw clearly with our eyes that police, military police and all armed forces, especially the military, have come out in strong support of the CNRP,” Mr. Rainsy said Sunday in a post to his Facebook page from the U.S., where he is attending his daughter’s wedding.
“So when you see them deployed on the streets please don’t worry and smile at them. And if you have water or a soft drink in your hands give it to them and say, ‘We have to join together to stand up and demand change to rescue the people’s living standards and rescue our nation in 2013.’”
Mr. Rainsy accompanied the post with a photo of an anonymous man in military fatigues holding up seven fingers, a symbol of the opposition.
In a post on Friday, he also said that change should include not only better living standards, but also a new government.
“Please help to explain to the armed forces, who are your brothers and your relatives, in order to encourage them to stand up with the people and the youth to demand a change in the current leaders,” he said.
In a separate post on Thursday, Mr. Rainsy said the recent deployment of troops around Phnom Penh was being ordered by the CPP and called directly on the army to join the opposition’s cause.
“So this is a golden opportunity for all of you to unite and stand up with our people and our National Rescue Youth to demand change and create a new government in 2013,” he said in his post.
“Please, all armed forces be willing to protect the people by the rules of Buddhism.”
The opposition’s focus on the armed forces comes amid a buildup of police and military personnel in and around Phnom Penh since Thursday in preparation for tentative protests the CNRP has warned of staging if the government does not carry out a credible investigation into irregularities at the polls on July 28.
With official results pending, both parties are claiming to have won enough National Assembly seats in the poll to form the next government.
CPP senior lawmaker and de facto party spokesman Cheam Yeap said the opposition leader could face legal action for trying to incite a coup.
“He has the idea to create a coup d’etat, which would lead to national unrest,” he said.
“It is possible, if the government wants, to file a complaint against him at this point,” Mr. Yeap said, adding that he may at some point file the complaint himself.
If Mr. Rainsy is ultimately unhappy with the National Election Committee’s (NEC) results, he said the opposition leader would do best to take his case to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, which has the final say on election-related matters.
The CNRP says that both the Constitutional Council and the NEC are too beholden to the CPP to issue any fair decisions.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also warned that Mr. Rainsy’s comments may constitute a “criminal offense” on Saturday.
“The Facebook comments are not official, but the call for armed forces to encourage a revolution violates the criminal code, it’s a criminal offense. I believe Rainsy said something different and people are interpreting it in a different way,” he said.
“But if Mr. Sam Riansy said so, it is a criminal offense.”
Mr. Rainsy was only recently pardoned, amid persistent pressure from the U.S., of a raft of convictions that were widely considered to have been politically motivated and which kept him abroad for most of the past four years.
Besides the opposition leader’s comments about the military, Interior Minister Sar Kheng also warned the CNRP’s leadership on Friday of legal action should violence ensue from the peaceful demonstrations the opposition is calling for if any investigation into election irregularities fails to deliver a victory for the CNRP.
On the same day, after some equivocating, officials finally
conceded that the soldiers and armored personnel carriers that were seen moving in on Phnom Penh were actually being redeployed to provide security should the opposition go ahead with the demonstrations.
“We are afraid some groups may try to take the opportunity to provoke unrest and make people scared,” spokesman for the National Military Police Kheng Tito said Sunday.
Mr. Tito would not say where the personnel and vehicles were being stationed in the meantime or exactly how many of them there were, but said their numbers were “not small.”
As for Mr. Rainsy’s call on the armed forces to support a change of government and his claim that they were on the opposition’s side, Mr. Tito said: “All the armed forces are neutral and do not join with any political party or serve any personal interest. The armed forces are to protect the Constitution and the country.”
“It is the politicians’ business,” added Sao Sokha, a deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and head of the National Military Police.
“He [Mr. Rainsy] can shout whatever he wants. I am with the nation’s armed forces. I have a duty to protect the nation and public order.”
The opposition and rights groups have long accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of wielding undue sway over the military.
Mr. Hun Sen’s sons also hold several top positions throughout the armed forces and have shot up the ranks in recent years.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)
© 2013, All rights reserved.