Following the convening of a one-party CPP National Assembly, leaders of the opposition CNRP said Monday that they would continue to boycott parliament and use mass demonstrations as a tool to pressure the government to meet their demands for “justice” following what they claim was a fraudulent election.
After failed attempts to lobby King Norodom Sihamoni to delay the formation of the new Assembly, opposition leaders said that future protests against the government would spread beyond Phnom Penh, and CNRP president Sam Rainsy said he and vice president Kem Sokha would embark on an international tour to ramp up international pressure on the CPP.
“We are devising a plan to mobilize the population to continue protests in a peaceful way and civil disobedience will also be considered as long as it legal,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that the CNRP would use “internal and external action” as it pushed for reforms from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
“We have supporters all over the world…and we will have Cambodian communities to lobby the governments of their country and Kem Sokha and myself will go for an international tour in the next few days or so,” Mr. Rainsy added.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that although the CNRP had not yet set a date for its next demonstration, it would be too large to be contained within Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, where previous opposition rallies have been held.
“There will be more people participating in [future] demonstrations, but I think the space at Freedom Park is not enough now. We can organize demonstrations in the provinces,” he said.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said that the opposition party may be willing to seek alternatives to an investigation into the July 28 ballot in order to join parliament, but he said it would require a guarantee that the power of the CPP over the next five years could be checked by the opposition.
“[Our] minimum demand, at least the CPP should recognize we are equal winners in this last election so we can share our responsibilities together, not just legitimize them and let them do all the horrible things again,” he said, adding that outright control of the National Assembly is one concession that the CNRP would accept.
Mr. Chhay said that taking anything less in exchange for validating a CPP-led government would put the CNRP at risk of being blamed by its supporters for being complicit in whatever decisions were made by Mr. Hun Sen’s administration over the next five years.
“If the government is still controlled by the CPP and parliament just does what Hun Sen wants to do, there is nothing we can do [as the opposition party],” he said.
In two rounds of negotiations last week, the CPP agreed in principle to reform the National Election Committee, a concession that Mr. Chhay said was not nearly enough to satisfy CNRP supporters, who have been promised nothing less than an election victory by Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha.
“There is no agreement from CPP to…give hope and confidence to the public [that the CNRP will have the power to effect change]. So unless there is something that could give some people some hope, I think we would not take part [in governing]. We [will] let the CPP take full responsibility,” he added.
Though the CNRP may have hurt its chances to win reforms from the CPP at the negotiating table by boycotting the opening session of the National Assembly, their firm stance against the government has given them further credibility among their supporters, said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.
“The CNRP remains strongly supported by their members, so that will maintain their political connection with grassroots supporters, and they will continue to use people’s protests to make their demands relevant and influence their agenda going forward,” Mr. Kol said, adding that reform from the CPP would more likely come on its own terms.
“It is very difficult to predict the CPP position now that CNRP has not honored them with inauguration of parliament today, but still I think the CPP has to make some reforms on their own initiative, for their political survival in the next election,” he said.
Independent political analyst Chea Vannath said that the CNRP’s paranoia that cooperating with the CPP within the National Assembly would undermine future electoral success was preventing its leaders from entertaining anything less than outright power within parliament.
“It seems like the CNRP—especially their supporters—worries too much about how they will get co-opted by the CPP and manipulated by the CPP,” she said.
“They should feel confident and move forward and let the people decide their fate in the next five years. They need to start to play the active, important, necessary role as a check and balance,” she added.
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