Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday that the CNRP will on Sunday hold its first gathering at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park since the government sent men wielding metal rods and axes to clear the site on January 4.
In a press conference at CNRP headquarters, Mr. Rainsy said that the opposition will host a “people’s congress” at the park at 1 p.m. to liaise with supporters after the breakdown this week of election reform talks with the CPP.
“Our leaders will talk to our people and ask the people what their ideas are and what we should continue to do,” Mr. Rainsy said. “We need to meet with them as we have not met with them for a very long time.”
The rally will follow an 8 a.m. memorial in front of the old National Assembly building for the 16 killed and scores who were injured at the site in the March 30, 1997, grenade attack on a rally hosted by Mr. Rainsy, the opposition leader said.
“We will not be holding a demonstration to topple the government, so please do not use this as an excuse or make such accusations,” Mr. Rainsy said in a message directed to the ruling party. “What we’re doing is a people’s congress.”
In a separate press conference held Wednesday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said that he would consider the CNRP’s plans when the party submits a formal request for the gathering. On March 10, authorities placed Freedom Park in lockdown to prevent garment worker unions from hosting a public forum.
“The CNRP will hold the people’s congress no matter what measures the authorities take,” Long Ry, the head of security for the CNRP, said Wednesday.
Mr. Rainsy said by telephone that the party would hold the congress in the parks to the east of Freedom Park if supporters were not allowed into the park.
Olympic Stadium would also be an option for the meeting, Mr. Rainsy said.
“But we consider that they [authorities] will not do this. If they close Freedom Park, it would be a perversion of the name and purpose of the park,” he said.
Phnom Penh municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said a meeting between city officials and CNRP leaders had been scheduled for this morning.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Mr. Rainsy reiterated comments he made Tuesday that the onus is now on the CPP to propose its own measures to ensure the independence of the National Election Committee (NEC) if it wants further talks.
The CPP has accused the CNRP of using the disagreement over the NEC as a pretext for backing out of the negotiations.
The bipartisan Electoral Reform Commission completely fell apart during its fourth meeting on Monday after CPP delegates said they would not even discuss a CNRP proposal to require two-thirds of lawmakers to appoint new members to the NEC.
The commission, which was established by the two parties last month, was intended to help forge a path for the CNRP to accept the 55 National Assembly seats that the NEC says it won in July’s election. The CNRP has been boycotting the seats for six months now and is pushing for a fresh election under an independent NEC.
Mr. Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, last led anti-government rallies from December 15 to January 4, when district security guards and plain-clothed government thugs wearing red ribbons on their arms tore down protest infrastructure and expelled people from the park.
In the two days before, a nationwide strike of garment workers, which had dovetailed with the opposition’s marches through Phnom Penh, was violently repressed. At least five protesters were shot dead by military police and more than 40 injured.
Assembly to Be Convened
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the ruling party will on Tuesday convene the second sitting of the National Assembly since July’s election. He said the CPP’s 68 lawmakers will vote on a new road law, expenditures in the last budget period, and on the appointment of some new parliamentary committee members.
Mr. Yeap said the CNRP should reconsider its plans for a public gathering.
“Now, I make an appeal calling for Sam Rainsy to send his 55 fighting cocks to debate with our CPP fighting cocks at the National Assembly,” he said.
The CNRP’s boycott of its National Assembly seats has been ongoing since the CPP’s lawmakers were sworn in by King Norodom Sihamoni on September 24.
Mr. Yeap, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary committee on banking and finance, noted that the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect had been forgoing their $2,000 monthly salaries and transportation allowances throughout the period.
“If they come to the National Assembly, and take their oaths at the Royal Palace for parliamentary validity, they will be paid starting from that day,” he said.
Mr. Yeap had previously suggested that the government could pay out the salaries that opposition lawmakers had lost after they were expelled from the National Assembly two months before July’s election if they ended their boycott.
Mr. Rainsy, who is not himself a lawmaker-elect, having been barred from running by the government due to a conviction that was pardoned by King Sihamoni in July, said that his party’s lawmakers-elect were unconcerned by the lost salaries.
“This is not an issue,” Mr. Rainsy said. “It would never be a carrot to make us join the National Assembly. We can survive and are proud to live with dignity with the financial and material support of CNRP members in Cambodia and abroad.”
The opposition leader said he had raised $90,000 during his 10-day trip to Australia, which ended Tuesday, and that the party is financially comfortable.
“People say they will never let us down in times of need,” Mr. Rainsy said.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey and Kuch Naren)