Senior government officials said Monday that they will not bow to the demands of opposition protesters to unseat Prime Minister Hun Sen, but remained coy over the government’s likely response if the daily protests continue.
The opposition CNRP, which has rejected the official results of the July 28 national election, has been leading two weeks of demonstrations and marches to demand that Mr. Hun Sen stand down or call a new election.
Thousands of striking garment factory workers have joined the party’s rallies since last week’s decision by the government to increase their monthly minimum wage to only $95 and continued their protests in the city Monday.
Chheang Vun, a senior CPP lawmaker, said that the estimated 50,000 people who marched through Phnom Penh chanting “Hun Sen, get out” paled in comparison to the 3.2 million who had voted for the ruling CPP in July.
“When we campaigned, we had Hun Sen’s name as our party policy. Now we have 55 percent of the vote. How can we follow the small voice’s pressure on the big voice?” he said.
“We practice democracy in Cambodia. We don’t have a duty to implement the language along the street.”
Mr. Vun added that the CPP was still open to negotiate with the CNRP to end the protests but said the opposition was placing too many conditions on a meeting.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha reiterated that the opposition would only enter into party negotiations if NGOs, monks and intellectuals were allowed to attend.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government was being lenient in allowing many marchers and demonstrators to close the city’s streets, as it recognized their constitutionally enshrined freedom to protest.
“We never treat the people as the enemy, but we manage things as much as we can to avoid violence. We understand that the demonstrations are good for freedom of expression,” he said.
He added, however, that at some point authorities would move to prevent the unauthorized protests.
“We also understand as the government that we have to restore law and order by some means and we will do that at some point in time,” Mr. Siphan said.
“We won’t do it now. Right now there is a good mood for negotiations between the CNRP and CPP.”