Reiterating his claim of winning last month’s disputed national election, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told thousands of supporters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to prepare for a mass demonstration against the ruling CPP unless its leaders stepped down.
Addressing an excited crowd of more than 5,000 fans at Freedom Park, Mr. Rainsy made little mention of the investigation he had been calling for into reports of widespread voting irregularities and said the time had come for the CPP to simply accept defeat.
“We don’t want to hold a demonstration, so I want to send a message to the [CPP],” Mr. Rainsy told the noisy crowd. “It must find an appropriate solution for the CNRP. If they don’t want a demonstration to happen, they must inform the U.N. that they lost and we will accept it after they step down.”
With official results still pending, both parties say they won a majority of the National Assembly’s 123 seats in the July 28 poll and with them the right to form the next government.
Negotiations to form a bipartisan committee to investigate voting irregularities broke down Saturday when the CPP said it would not let the U.N. play a role and the CNRP refused to participate without them.
Unless the CPP now concedes, Mr. Rainsy said, “We will prepare a big demonstration, more than 10 times the people [here] today. We must stand up to protect our result.”
To peels of laughter, the CNRP president pointed out that even by the CPP’s unofficial figures, Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, all CPP top brass, saw the CNRP win the majority of seats in their provinces.
“Chea Sim stood in Phnom Penh, but he lost to the CNRP. Hun Sen stood in Kandal province, but he lost to the CNRP. Heng Samrin stood in Kompong Cham, but he lost to the CNRP,” Mr. Rainsy said. “No one believes that the CPP won.”
Taking over from Mr. Rainsy, CNRP vice president Kem Sokha claimed that the opposition had even won the majority of votes among soldiers and civil servants, who have traditionally supported the CPP thanks to a well-entrenched system of patronage and nepotism.
“According to research from CNRP officials, more than 70 percent of the armed forces and civil servants voted for the CNRP,” he said.
“I believe that civil servants and the armed forces, even the market vendors and businessmen, voted for the CNRP.”
“A senior CPP official text messaged to me that he also supports the CNRP and that he wants to change the leadership,” Mr. Sokha claimed without naming the official.
Offering government employees something of an olive branch, Mr. Sokha assured them that the CNRP would not usher in a wave of firings once in power.
“After the CPP announces it has lost, the CNRP will welcome and work with government officials to build the country together,” he said.
Contacted afterward, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun declined to comment on Mr. Sokha’s claim that the opposition took the majority of army votes. “I don’t know. If Mr. Sam Rainsy said so, you can use his comment,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the opposition could not possibly know who they voted for. “It’s not true because Sam Rainsy doesn’t have evidence and the election is a secret, so no one knows who voted for which political party,” he said.
Back at the rally, CNRP supporters said they were ready to heed their leaders’ call for a mass demonstration.
Yun Chenla, a third-year agricultural sciences student who was still chanting the opposition slogan “change” on his own well after Mr. Rainsy had left the stage, said he was ready to take to the streets.
“I’m ready to join the demonstration if they need us to,” he said. “I have Khmer blood, so I know there are many problems across the country.”
Mr. Hun Sen has recently warned the CNRP that any protests would be met with counter-protests by the CPP and that any violence that ensued would be the opposition’s fault.