Opposition Lays Out Reform Demands at ‘People’s Congress’

Amidst an opposition boycott of the National Assembly, CNRP leaders on Sunday announced to about 10,000 supporters gathered in Phnom Penh their tentative plans to push the one-party CPP government to investigate irregularities in the July election and enact a broad slate of reforms.

As patchy afternoon rain fell over a two-hour “people’s congress” in Freedom Park, party faithful—covered in various colors of ponchos and umbrellas—raised their hands in a show of support for a list of 10 demands that the opposition’s 55 lawmakers-elect say they will insist upon before joining parliament.

Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters shield themselves from the rain as they take part in the CNRP's 'people's congress' on Sunday in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park. (Siv Channa)
Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters shield themselves from the rain as they take part in the CNRP’s ‘people’s congress’ on Sunday in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. (Siv Channa)

“Today is historic because no one has ever dared to hold a con­gress like us. The CNRP has to hold this congress in order to get the opinion of the people, which we will implement,” CNRP vice president Kem So­kha told the crowd.

Senior opposition lawmaker Pol Ham read out a list of the CNRP’s 10 demands for reform, stopping after each point so Mr. Sokha could ask the crowd if they agreed.

More theatrics than grassroots political debate, each point seemed to receive unanimous support from the enthusiastic demonstrators.

Adding to its demand that an independent committee be created to investigate the flawed election, the CNRP is also calling for the establishment of a shadow government, licensing of CNRP television and radio stations, an end to economic land concessions and deforestation, implementation of immigration laws, a review of Cambodia’s border posts, new laws that require village chiefs to be elected by popular vote, the complete independence of the judiciary and the immediate release of political prisoners and human rights activists from jail.

CNRP president Sam Rainsy also announced that today he will leave the country on a two-week world tour to lobby foreign governments to cease recognition of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s one-party parliament, while vice president Mr. Sokha will remain in the country to rally support for another mass opposition demonstration planned for later this month.

“We are now working with 28 democratic countries in the world, and I am going to Washington, Brussels, Italy and France tomorrow for two weeks in order to convince them not to recognize Cambodia because the government and National Assembly are illegally formed,” Mr. Rainsy told the rally.

Mr. Sokha also called on the assembled supporters to help gather 3 million thumbprints for a petition calling on the U.N. to intervene in Cambodia’s post-election dispute, which will be delivered to U.N. representatives in Cambodia on the same day as the October 23 mass demonstration. The demonstration date was picked to coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha said that if the CNRP’s October 23 demonstration, along with their international campaign, prove fruitless, the party will begin to organize a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience.

In the likely event that the CPP does not agree to the CNRP’s demands after the October 23 demonstration, Mr. Sokha appealed to “all civil servants and garment workers to stop working and businesspeople should close markets, and I believe that the government will fall down.”

The Venerable Som Sovady, the leader of a group of monks that has become a fixture at CNRP rallies, was one of about a dozen members of the crowd that the CNRP selected to address their fellow supporters.

“I would like to request that…leaders of the parties should not hold secret negotiations. By opening the meeting to the public, all people will know the truth,” he said, suggesting that future talks between the CPP and CNRP be broadcast on state television and radio.

Senior CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said that the CNRP would call for another round of negotiations with the CPP, de­spite Mr. Hun Sen’s insistence that the ruling party would only talk if the opposition takes its seats in the Na­tional Assembly.

“We are going to have to ask for negotiations to resume,” she said, adding that the CNRP would continue to convene its supporters after each round of negotiations to gauge popular opinion.

“We have 10 points. After another round, maybe we get three or four. We will head back to them [CNRP supporters] and ask if that is enough,” she said.

However, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the CNRP was insisting upon its reform platform, not putting it up for discussion.

“[This is] not a negotiation, it is a demand for democratic institutions,” he said. “If there is no reform, it is better to work in the streets with the people [than join the National Assembly].”

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