About 200 demonstrators shouted “Sam Rainsy is a failure” and burned T-shirts bearing the opposition party logo in front of the National Assembly Sunday in what opposition leaders called a “political game” spun by the CPP.
The rally leader, Neang Seng, said the group was betrayed by Sam Rainsy in 1998 and that many of the protesters had relatives who were killed in a grenade attack on his supporters in the same park in 1997.
“Sam Rainsy tricked us to spend our money to lead the workers to hold demonstrations. We sold our cows to participate in the demonstration,” Neang Seng said.
When questioned by a reporter, many of the protesters—some as young as 12—said they were CPP supporters brought to the rally by their village chiefs.
“I don’t know what they do here. I was asked to come here,” said a protester who identified himself as Hen, a construction worker.
Three men who refused to be named said that they were brought to the rally by the chief of their nearby village.
“Nobody paid me to come here,” said one man. “The village chief noticed my name and asked me to come.”
Neang Seng led the crowd in chants as they hung in front of the Assembly a banner that read “Failure Sam Rainsy.” He asked the protesters to mourn the victims of the grenade attack, then laid three wreaths against a memorial stupa.
When he asked the crowd to take off their Sam Rainsy Party T-shirts and burn them, at least one protester balked and asked if he could keep the shirt.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Yim Sovann called the rally a farce staged by the CPP. “The Sam Rainsy Party is getting famous quickly, and that is why the CPP wants to defame the party so it loses its popularity,” he said.
“This is the political game prepared by the CPP. This trick is the same as in 1998. I think the voters understand about this wicked trick,” he said.
The rally came a day after election monitors decried the strong-handed tactics allegedly employed by village chiefs to ensure a CPP victory. Almost three-quarters of the authorities at the village and commune level are linked to the CPP, according to a joint statement Saturday by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections and the Neutral, Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
The statement cited 147 cases of intimidation in the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham and Prey Veng in the initial two weeks of the campaign.
Observers “are now concerned that if village chiefs and deputy chiefs are allowed to act as party agents in the polling stations, their presence may intimidate or influence some voters,” six NGOs said in a public statement this weekend. The NGOs appealed to the National Election Committee to ban chiefs from working as party agents.
The Ministry of Interior on Friday issued a countrywide directive asking local authorities to stay neutral through the elections, but monitors have said only the removal of the long-standing village chiefs could improve the election climate.
“I appreciate [the NEC] tried to do something…but I don’t know how effective it will be,” Comfrel Director Koul Panha said.
Mao Chandara, deputy chief of the National Police, said his department had not received any complaints of bias or intimidation by village chiefs.
“Those NGOs must find enough evidence before they claim something. We never receive any complaints,” Mao Chandara said.
Meanwhile, parties entering the final week of campaigning led marches and rallies across the city Sunday morning. The CPP attracted a crowd of about 10,000 at a pop concert at Wat Phnom, and Prince Norodom Chakrapong of the Norodom Chakrapong Proloeung Khmer Party led a rally outside of the Assembly.
Prince Chakrapong, a half-brother of Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and head of Royal Phnom Penh Airways, said the coalition parties were steeped in corruption.
“We have to choose a new leader who isn’t involved in [corruption],” he told about 3,000 supporters.
In a small march staged by the Khmer Front Party, supporters carried handmade signs depicting illegal Vietnamese immigrants fishing the Tonle Sap river.
In other election news, the government of South Korea has donated 45 motorbikes and helmets to the NEC to help with transportation between election officials throughout the country.
Most provinces will receive two bikes, while nine will be kept for use in Phnom Penh, said Ung Sitek, NEC’s director of administration, in a statement. The bikes are valued at about $44,000.
Also, about 200 handicapped Cambodians are registered as election monitors, according to a statement by the Action on Disability and Development. More than 28,000 observers, including about 400 international observers, will monitor polling and ballot-counting stations.
Today, Sam Rainsy will participate in a “oath nullification” ceremony in front of the Royal Palace. The ceremony is to appeal to the spirit at the altar to free voters from coerced commitments to political parties, said Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang.
Prince Ranariddh will not appear in public until Wednesday, a Funcinpec spokeswoman said. In Koh Kong province, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are scheduled to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge connecting the two countries.
(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)