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Cambodian Opposition Refuses to Call Off Parliament Boycott

  • Robert Carmichael

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni (C) greets government officials after returning from China at Phnom Penh International Airport, Sept. 11, 2013.

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni (C) greets government officials after returning from China at Phnom Penh International Airport, Sept. 11, 2013.

Cambodia’s opposition said it will not attend the scheduled opening of parliament next week despite a request by the king to call off their boycott. The opposition continues to insist that the ruling party agree to an independent investigation into allegations of massive voting fraud in July’s election.

The letter from King Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodia's constitutional monarch, came after three days of opposition protests attended by tens of thousands of people in the capital.

In his letter, which he wrote to each of the opposition’s 55 prospective parliamentarians, the king asked that they attend the September 23 opening of parliament for the sake of national unity.

His request follows numerous statements by the opposition pledging to boycott the opening unless the ruling party agrees to an independent committee to investigate the bitterly contested election results.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, said Wednesday that as matters currently stand the opposition would not attend the opening of parliament.

Yim Sovann said MPs were obliged to take into account an earlier letter from King Norodom Sihamoni - dated August 7 - in which the monarch called on both parties to find a peaceful solution to the post-election crisis.

“The solution cannot be found yet. So we have to find the solution. Also we have to respect the letter of the king - in the letter of the king dated the 7th, the king wants unity, wants a solution, but so far there is no unity, there’s no solution. So we have to find justice, we have to find a solution, we have to find a way to unify all of the political forces first before we go to the parliament,” said Sovann.

The opposition claims it won a majority of 63 seats in the July 28 poll, and said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, and the National Election Committee - the body that oversees elections - conspired to deny it victory. The official results gave the CPP 68 seats in the National Assembly and the opposition 55 seats.

The ruling CPP has said that with the release of the official results, the time for revisiting the vote has passed.

Many opposition supporters claimed they were prevented from voting. Independent election monitors have said there were widespread irregularities, including problems with voter lists, that affect about one quarter of the electoral roll.

Yim Sovann said the party could not ignore its supporters’ demands for a probe.

“The people, the voters, voted for us and so far we have to listen to the people, to the voters. We have to respect the will of the voters. And the voters want us to find justice for them - because some of them received injustice during the election,” Sovann said.

The three days of rallies in Phnom Penh, which ended on Tuesday, failed to generate much in the way of concessions other than a vague agreement on Monday that the two parties would set up a committee to examine electoral laws and the National Election Committee.

Also Monday both parties agreed to ensure there was no further violence. That came after a commuter was shot dead by military police and around two dozen people were hospitalized after a clash at a key intersection in the capital on Sunday night. The intersection was one of many the authorities had blocked that day.

Tuesday’s talks, however, ended without progress. Although no date has yet been set for further negotiations, Yim Sovann said he hoped a meeting would take place before the scheduled opening of parliament next week.
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