PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s main opposition leader kicked off a new wave of demonstrations against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government Sunday, warning the protests would not stop until the nation’s post-election deadlock is resolved.
The mass rally comes one day after Cambodia’s king brought Hun Sen face to face with opposition chief Sam Rainsy for the first time in years, urging the two rivals to resolve their conflict over results from the July ballot peacefully for the sake of national stability. No agreement was reached, but the two are expected to meet again Monday.
Political analysts say the weekend protest is mostly aimed at appeasing angry supporters and strengthening the opposition’s hand in negotiations with Hun Sen. Although the rally is aimed at pushing for an independent investigation of the election results, the government has no legal means of meeting the request now that the results have been ratified.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party says it should have won the vote, alleging it was marred by serious irregularities.
“Their ballots were stolen and they are asking for justice,” Sam Rainsy said of his supporters, about 20,000 of whom gathered in a public park in Phnom Penh. Several thousand of them had earlier marched through the city’s main thoroughfares.
He said Sunday’s protest, initially planned for three days, would continue until their demands for justice are met.
The opposition plans to have its supporters camp overnight, setting up a possible confrontation with riot police since authorities have requested the rally should end by nightfall.
Fears of violence have risen amid a visible increase of military forces in the capital since the election and the discovery Friday of explosives planted by unknown persons near the public park where the demonstration is to take place.
Official results announced last weekend gave Hun Sen’s party 68 seats in the National Assembly and Sam Rainsy’s party 55 — a dramatic opposition increase from the 29 seats it won in the previous election.
On Saturday, the king also urged lawmakers from both parties to attend the opening session of parliament Sept. 23. The opposition has said it would boycott the session and Sam Rainsy repeated that promise Sunday.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said talks between the rivals this week could have focused on allotting the opposition several parliamentary leadership positions, reforming the electoral commission and allowing Sam Rainsy to take a seat in parliament.
Just before the disputed vote, King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned the then self-exiled Sam Rainsy at the request of Hun Sen — likely under international pressure. He returned to Cambodia before the election, but too late to register as a candidate himself.