Undeterred by legal pressure on their party’s two top leaders, some four thousand Norodom Ranariddh Party supporters rallied in the streets of Phnom Penh on March 23 with nine days to go until the commune elections.
In a procession that kicked off at 8 am at the party’s Tuol Kok district offices, four to five thousand people drove around the capital on trucks and motorbikes, said Mar Sophal, a monitor with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“We distributed leaflets and demonstrated that Prince Norodom Ranariddh is still running his political party,” said NRP spokesman Muth Channtha. “Our party will bring new change to the leadership of the communes,” he added.
The procession drove past Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which on March 13 sentenced Prince Ranariddh to 18 months in absentia for selling Funinpec’s headquarters. NRP supporters pulled up outside the court, which on March 23 was questioning NRP Acting President Prince Norodom Chakrapong over his debt to the Finance Ministry, and shouted “long live the Norodom Ranariddh Party.”
Prince Ranariddh’s adviser Ok Socheat said that despite the prince’s absence, the party has high hopes for the elections.
“We have made activities everywhere at the grassroots level,” he said. Most of Prince Ranariddh’s supporters from his Funcinpec days now realize the prince has set up a new party and have been urged to join, he said.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said he was not surprised by the rally, but declined further comment.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith welcomed the procession, saying the NRP has the right to campaign freely.
“We are happy. We are all Khmer and can campaign freely in a democracy,” he said.
Mar Sophal said the rally proceeded smoothly, though the crowds did not match those that the prince was able to draw in previous years.
“It is unjust that the party president is not able to stay inside Cambodia and provide encouragement for the party’s members as [SRP leader] Sam Rainsy does,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)