The SRP on Wednesday officially informed the Phnom Penh Municipality that it intends to move ahead with plans for a 5,000-person demonstration against inflation Sunday.
Government officials declined to discuss whether they would permit the protest rally, but an Interior Ministry official warned that rallies on price increases had turned to violence in the past.
In a letter to Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema, Phnom Penh lawmakers Son Chhay, Ho Vann and Nou Sovath, all of the SRP, wrote that 5,000 people are expected to participate in the rally, which will begin at 8 am at Phsar Thmei and proceed to the old National Assembly building near the Royal Palace. That building is currently the temporary home of the Council of Ministers.
“I would like to inform His Excellency that within recent months the price of goods has been increasing—especially gasoline, rice, fish and meat—which has affected the people’s living standards very seriously,” the lawmakers wrote.
Contacted by telephone, Ho Vann said he hopes the municipality and the national government will not move to block the demonstration, which he said was not very large anyway.
“The solution to stop the demonstration is only the government decreasing inflation,” Ho Vann said. “Five thousand people are not many.”
Kep Chuktema said he had not yet received the lawmakers’ letter but would summon them to City Hall for a meeting as soon as he receives it.
The governor declined to reveal whether the city would approve the protest rally or what action would be taken if the SRP went ahead without consent from City Hall, saying only: “Cambodia has laws; [Sam Rainsy] must respect the law.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to say whether action would be taken against the demonstration if rally organizers don’t secure official permission. “They must follow the law,” he said.
He added, however, that in the event that the demonstration turns violent, the “authorities will file a complaint with the court against the organizer.”
Khieu Sopheak noted that anti-inflation demonstrations during the Lon Nol era in the early 1970s had devolved into violence.
SRP parliamentarians Tuesday released a statement promoting the rally, raising five points they said the government must address.
The points include the reduction of the tax on gasoline from 1,200 riel to 500 riel per liter and a reduction on gasoline distributors’ profit margin from 700 riel to 400 riel. The SRP also demands comprehensive land reforms that include the handing over of state land to farmers with no or inadequate land.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on Wednesday reiterated his statements that it was inappropriate for a political party to call for a demonstration.
Though he declined to say whether the government would act on any of the SRP’s demands, he said the government has taken effective measures to keep electricity and water prices under control.
“We cannot force farmers to sell rice. We begged them to stop selling rice outside the country for only two months,” Khieu Kanharith said, referring to a recent government ban on rice exports aimed at driving down domestic prices. “Can the SRP claim [it can make] the price of rice and pork go down?”
Several Phnom Penh residents said Wednesday they are feeling the sting of inflation and supported the SRP’s calls for immediate government action.
Garment worker Yin Saroeun said he would participate in Sunday’s rally.
“The price of gasoline and all goods has increased,” he said. “If we don’t demand [change], the government will ignore us.”
He said the government’s promise this week that garment workers will receive an extra $6 per month has done nothing but make his landlord raise his rent.
A group of motorbike taxi drivers outside the NagaWorld casino Wednesday said they plan on joining the demonstration, but expressed little hope that it would lead to government action on prices.
“I request the government to set the price of goods to a suitable level,” said driver Dam Lauv, 53, who added that gas prices have made it almost impossible for him to turn a profit.