— Tens of thousands of protesters have gathered in Cambodia's capital this week calling for an independent probe of alleged election fraud, and for the United States and Britain, among other countries, to weigh in on the post-election deadlock. Protesters have come to the capital from all parts of the country.
The three-day rally in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park was called by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP.
Protesters want an independent investigation into the bitterly contested July ballot, and continue to stress their opposition to the newly formed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which they maintain is illegal.
On Wednesday around 10,000 people marched to deliver a petition thumb-printed by more than two million people to the United Nations office, in which they again called for an investigation.
On Thursday, thousands more marched to the embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom to deliver letters asking those countries to get involved in resolving the political impasse.
Protester Ruon Sambath, a 67-year-old farmer, said as far as he was concerned, Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, rigged the election result. He wanted the U.N. and countries like the United States to push for an investigation.
He said, “This is what voters wanted when they cast their ballots - they made the decision to change the leader but in the end the party that lost still managed to win.”
A young protester calls for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down on the final day of a three-day rally organized by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Phnom Penh, Oct. 25, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
High school students peek through a school gate to cheer and take pictures of a protest in Phnom Penh, Oct. 25, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
A young female protester who passed out due to heat was helped by fellow protesters, Phnom Penh, Oct. 25, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy leads supporters to submit petitions to Western embassies calling for an independent investigation into alleged election irregularities, Phnom Penh, Oct 24, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
Opposition supporters wave national flags of some Western countries who were signatory parties to the 22 year old Paris Peace Agreement, Phnom Penh, Oct 24, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
A Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporter wears a ribbon that reads “When there is justice, there is peace,” Phnom Penh, Oct. 23, 2013. (Khoun Theara/VOA Khmer)
Phnom Penh residents came out to cheer protesters when they marched by, Oct. 23, 2013. (Khoun Theara/VOA Khmer)
Buddhist monks took part in the opposition protest despite warning from head monks to stay away from political rally, Phnom Penh, Oct. 23, 2013. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
Construction workers on scaffolding ceased their work to watch opposition protest and take pictures, Phnom Penh, Oct. 23, 2013. (Khoun Theara/VOA Khmer)
Protesters return to Freedom Park where some of them spend the night, Phnom Penh, Oct. 23, 2013. (Khoun Theara/VOA Khmer)
In July’s ballot, the ruling CPP won 68 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, while the opposition nearly doubled its representation with 55 seats. The opposition, however, has refused to take up its seats because of the alleged electoral fraud. The ruling CPP insists it won the election fairly and has rejected calls for international involvement.
The U.S. and other Western countries have called on all sides to engage in peaceful dialogue, but have not publicly taken sides in the election dispute.
Protester Kim San, who is in her sixties, said her four children were unable to vote after their names were removed from the voters’ roll. That was a common complaint in this election.
A man from Kampong Speu province in central Cambodia said he lost his land to a well-connected family, and the courts then failed him. He said the country needed leaders that people can trust.
He said, “We are here because all of us want a leader who can help the people in Cambodia, an honest person who does not support the dishonest people.”
Many at the rally said they have had enough of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule. While that sentiment is expected at an opposition rally, expressing such thoughts publicly just five years ago would have been unthinkable. Now it is commonplace.
An Choy, 58, travelled from Mondolkiri province in the northeast. Until recently, he said, his district had forests and natural resources such as gold. Not any longer.
He said, “All the gold and the trees and the forests in my area are now gone - in Chong Plas commune and Khao Seima district. And in another area of Mondolkiri province they will be gone soon. And that’s all because of the government."
People like An Choy, Ruon Sambath and Kim San - farmers in their 50s and 60s - have long been the bedrock of support for the ruling party. But after years in power, and mounting accusations of bad governance, there are growing signs that the CPP’s rural support base appears to be eroding.