As leaders from the CPP and CNRP sat down for a round of top-level negotiations aimed at breaking the country’s prolonged political impasse on Monday, opposition supporters once again poured into Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park for the second day of demonstrations against alleged fraud in July’s election.
Thousands of supporters remained in the park throughout the day as CNRP politicians, singers, dancers and a backup band took turns entertaining the crowd. The size and enthusiasm of those assembled peaked about 4 p.m., when opposition leaders took the stage to inform more than 20,000 supporters about the party’s progress in talks with the ruling party.
Though the opposition reported no progress toward the stated goal of forcing the CPP to cooperate in the formation of an impartial commission to investigate the flawed election, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told a euphoric audience that the talks were a historic success.
“We received a big success and this is the solution that our people have demanded during the past two decades,” Mr. Sovann said, referring to the CPP’s agreement to form a joint mechanism to reform the National Election Committee (NEC) and electoral laws.
The gathered masses roared in approval, frantically waving flags and even throwing water into the air.
“We have resisted for 20 years and now we have won because the CPP agreed with our requests,” he said, adding that the CNRP would continue to stage mass protests and sit down for further talks with the CPP, as it remained committed to investigating the July 28 ballot.
Shortly after Mr. Sovann’s speech, opposition leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy arrived and told the crowd they came away from the talks with a guarantee of peace after an opposition supporter was killed on Sunday night during clashes with military and riot police.
Mr. Rainsy asked the crowd to join him for a minute of silence in memory of Mao Chan, 29, who was shot dead late Sunday night near Monivong Bridge.
“We received a big success because the ruling party promised and guaranteed that [it] will stop using violence,” he said, adding that he interpreted a letter sent by King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday, calling for peace as an order for the government to stop using force to quell demonstrations.
“I understand that this letter was not intended for the CNRP because we have conducted peaceful demonstrations. Therefore, this letter is intended for authorities who shot a person dead last night,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy added that the CNRP would follow through with its boycott of Parliament and continue to hold mass demonstrations until its supporters receive justice in the form of an independent probe into election irregularities.
“I wish to inform you that His Excellency Kem Sokha and I will not join the National Assembly’s session if there is no appropriate solution for us,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that it is within the authority of the NEC to give the CNRP’s 55 National Assembly seats to the CPP should the opposition refuse to sit in Parliament, a move that would effectively make Cambodia a one-party state.
Mr. Sovann, the party spokesman, said after the demonstrations that the CNRP was yet to decide whether it would extend the three-day “camp-in” at Freedom Park.
CNRP supporters at Monday’s protest had differing opinions on how much the negotiations actually advanced the opposition’s cause.
Oun Lyly, 42, a midwife in Phnom Penh, said that she was thrilled that Mr. Rainsy and his colleagues had secured reforms on her behalf.
“I have a happy heart because I came to find justice and today I got it,” she said.
But Hai Sopheak, a 23-year-old civil engineering student at Norton University, said he was still holding out for more meaningful concessions from the long-ruling CPP.
“There is no resolution yet and this is not what we wanted. What we want is for both parties to create an independent committee [to investigate elections]. Prime Minster Hun Sen has promised to change the NEC during the next mandate. But we want change now,” he said.
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