Cambodia’s main opposition force rallied thousands of supporters on Wednesday to stage a mass protest in the nation’s capital.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—Cambodia’s main opposition force rallied thousands of supporters on Wednesday to stage a mass protest in the nation’s capital, renewing its bid to challenge results of a disputed July vote and pressure long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen to pursue electoral reforms.
The demonstration, slated to last three days, is the latest in a series of opposition protests related to the contentious July 28 general election, narrowly won by Mr. Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud. The People’s Party last month convened a new parliament and formed government, ignoring opposition attempts to block the process by boycotting the legislature.
Tens of thousands protesters—waving opposition party colors and banners—gathered at Freedom Park, in the heart of the capital, to hear opposition leaders speak and chant slogans demanding for political change. The scenes mirrored mass opposition protests held at the same venue in September, though Wednesday’s proceedings were peaceful and unmarred by violent clashes that occurred during earlier demonstrations.
Several thousand protesters later marched through Phnom Penh to deliver a petition to the local U.N. office, seeking support for an independent investigation into alleged voting irregularities. The Rescue Party said it would deliver similar petitions on Thursday and Friday to a number of foreign embassies in Phnom Penh, including those of France, the U.K. and the U.S.
< The protest is mean to press for “insurance that the next election is not flawed like this year’s election,” Mr. Rains, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told reporters Wednesday. “We demand solutions, by negotiating peacefully on election reforms.”
Opposition leaders have condemned Mr. Hun Sen’s new government as an illegal one, saying the People’s Party had flouted Cambodia’s constitution by opening parliament without opposition lawmakers. At Wednesday’s protest, they also reiterated demands for an independent investigation into alleged voting irregularities at the July election.
Mr. Hun Sen and ruling party officials have defended the election results and resisted these calls so far, promising instead to consider unspecified reforms for the election commission. They also defended their formation of a new National Assembly and government, calling on the Rescue Party to end its protests and join parliament.
“The election result has been recognized, and the [People’s Party] is the winner. Thus the reforms do not need agreement from [the Rescue Party]. If [the People’s Party] thinks it is necessary, we will do it,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng told The Wall Street Journal.
“Power sharing can happen if [the Rescue Party] comes to the discussion,” Mr. Sar Kheng said. “We are open to negotiations.”
Wednesday also marked the 22nd anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements—a set of United Nations-brokered deals that ended decades of civil war in Cambodia and paved the way for competitive elections to be reintroduced to the Southeast Asian nation in 1993.
In the July 28 election, Cambodia’s fifth since 1993, Mr. Hun Sen’s party won 68 parliamentary seats to 55 for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, official results show. This represented a 22-seat loss for the ruling party compared with 2008, and marked the ruling party’s worst showing since 1998.
The Rescue Party—formed last year by a merger of two opposition parties—has claimed that it won 63 seats in the 123-member National Assembly, enough for overall victory and up from 29 taken by its constituent groups five years ago. The party says it was denied victory by widespread voting fraud, and its lawmakers-elect have refused to take their parliamentary seats in protest.
The National Election Committee—which has close ties to the ruling People’s Party—has rejected calls for a U.N.-backed probe. The commission has said it found some instances of voting fraud, though not enough to sway the official result.
Opposition leaders have lobbied foreign governments and international institutions to support its efforts, but with limited success. Despite Mr. Rainsy’s personal appeals to U.S. and European officials to reject the outcome of the July vote, the U.S. and European Union have merely reiterated calls for peaceful dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties and avoided expressing support for either side.
Meanwhile Mr. Hun Sen, already prime minister for 28 years, has continued to govern despite the opposition’s parliamentary boycott. He has rejected claims from some legal experts who say the Constitution allows the opposition to block a new parliament by declining to take its seats.
Mr. Hun Sen, 61, is credited with restoring stability and economic growth to his impoverished nation, but has also been accused of quieting dissent through violence and intimidation. But political analysts say support for the prime minister has weakened amid deepening disenchantment over rural-land conflicts, high youth unemployment and widening social inequity, as well as the ruling party’s inability to connect with a growing youth demographic.