News / Asia

Tens of Thousands March in Cambodia Demanding Hun Sen Quit

Some of the tens of thousands of Cambodians who marched along Phnom Penh's Monivong Boulevard calling for Hun Sen to resign. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Some of the tens of thousands of Cambodians who marched along Phnom Penh's Monivong Boulevard calling for Hun Sen to resign. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Robert Carmichael
In Cambodia Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to quit. The public outpouring of sentiment in recent months against the long-time leader is unprecedented, and has brought together opposition party supporters and many of Cambodia’s 400,000-strong garment workers.

Before leading the huge march through the streets of Phnom Penh, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the crowd at Freedom Park in the city center that this is a historic day and that the will of the Cambodian people will prevail.

Rainsy said all Cambodians believe Hun Sen’s government is illegal, adding that the prime minister would hear their voice. He said everyone wants to see a change in leadership, and he called for fresh elections.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march in Phnom Penh, Dec. 29, 2013. (R. Carmichael/VOA)Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march in Phnom Penh, Dec. 29, 2013. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march in Phnom Penh, Dec. 29, 2013. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march in Phnom Penh, Dec. 29, 2013. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
​The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which Sam Rainsy leads, stunned the ruling party in July when it came close to winning the general election. The opposition has since claimed the election was stolen.

It initially sought an independent investigation into the ballot.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen - who has been in power for nearly three decades - rejected that, and talks between the two sides quickly stagnated.

The 55 opposition MPs-elect have refused to take up their seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. They want Hun Sen to quit and a second election held next year. Hun Sen has rejected both of those demands, too.

So for the past two weeks, the opposition has staged daily rallies and marches in Phnom Penh, drawing between a few thousand supporters and - on Sunday a week ago - as many as an estimated 40,000.

The march this Sunday saw even more people turn out. Counting crowds is a notoriously tricky task, but this march was clearly much larger than last week’s. Once again, the refrain was that Hun Sen must go.

Expressing such sentiments publicly in Cambodia even a year ago would have been unthinkable, and is indicative of how far the country’s political landscape has shifted.

The opposition has been boosted by wide segments of society: from civil servants fed up with low wages, to ordinary citizens tired of corruption, Buddhist monks speaking out against the senior clergy’s coziness to the ruling party, and garment workers, angry at the government’s announcement on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from $80 a month to just $95.

Garment workers say that is not enough - with prices in the markets rising fast, as are rents. Many are forced to work overtime simply to make ends meet.

Touch is one of the protestors demanding that the minimum wage rises to $160. The 35-year-old Touch has worked for a decade in a factory that makes jeans for Levi-Strauss. She and her husband are able to send home a small monthly sum to her parents in the village who look after their two children.

She says there are two reasons she came Sunday. One is to have the minimum wage increased to $160. The other is for Hun Sen to step down.

Cambodia’s garment industry is the country’s key foreign exchange earner - worth more than $5 billion this year, mostly in exports to the U.S. and the European Union. The sector is also Cambodia’s biggest formal employer, with 400,000 workers.

But wages have not kept pace with inflation, and over the years the industry has been hit by hundreds of strikes. Last year saw more than half a million days lost to strike action; this year will likely see one million days lost, by far the worst in its two-decade-long history.

So it was little surprise that the announcement of the $15 raise saw tens of thousands of garment workers walk out. In response the trade body that represents the factory owners advised its 470 or so members to close, citing the risk of violence. Many have done so.

Although unions affiliated to the ruling party did back the pay rise, independent unions and those linked to the opposition rejected it. On Friday, leaders of the last two groups met senior officials at the Ministry of Labor to discuss new wages terms, while 2,000 workers blocked the road outside. They failed to reach a deal and are scheduled to meet again Monday.

Touch reckons a deal is at some point inevitable - but pledges that until one is concluded, she and her fellow workers will stay on strike.

She says she expects the government will find a solution for the workers, but doesn't know how long that will take.

The opposition continues to reap political capital from the dispute over the minimum wage. Earlier this past week, Sam Rainsy told workers they should stay on strike until they get $160 a month.

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Comment Sorting
by: Hong Ha from: Vietnam
January 07, 2014 12:32 AM
To: Chivansuy, Mario Grechi
I think both of you are not Cambodians and neither of you is living in Cambodia. If you would like to find of the truth about the crime of the Khmer Rough you can visit Cambodia to meet people there. Khmer Rough killed 30,000 Vietnamese innocent people and around 3 million Cambodians. Vietnam was the savior of Cambodia because Vietnam saved the rest of Cambodian people from being exterminated by Khmer Rough. Hun Sen is the person who overthew Khmer Rough regim with the help of Vietnam. At that time Sam Raisy escaped to a Western country for his safety. Western countries including the USA took no action to save the lives of millions of Cambodians because they supported Khmer Rough regime. They also protested Vietnam and placed embargo towards Vietnam for saving innocent Cambodians. So stop speading lies about the cowardly Sam Raisy. He is only a puppet of some western countries.
In Response

by: Chivansuy from: Long Beach
January 07, 2014 11:59 PM
Hong Ha, you don’t understand the history of the Khmer Rouge and who was the initial start of the Khmer Rouge and who is behind the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Ho Chi Minh trained and supported the Khmer Rouge since 1930 under Indochina Communist Party. Ho Chi Minh then started the Vietnam War and sent about 700,000 Viet Cong inside Cambodia that led US to drop about 2.8 million tons of bombs and killed about 2 million Cambodian people.

When Viet Cong were inside Cambodia, they trained and helped the Khmer Rouge to power and when the Khmer Rouge defeated Lon Nol regime in 1975, they killed millions of innocent Cambodian people. All of these killings because of Ho Chi Minh/Viet Cong ambitions want to take Cambodia like they took South Viet Name( it belongs to Cambodia; it is my country).

During Vietnamese communists occupied Cambodia between 1979 and 1989, they killed about 700,000 innocent Cambodian people. Now there are more than five million illegal Vietnamese immigrants are living freely in Cambodia with protection of Hun Sen-backed Hanoi. When Vietnamese population is more than Cambodian population, Vietnamese will kill Cambodian people like they did to the Cham people and take over Cambodian country.

Vietnamese killed all Cham people and took their country and erased it out from the global map.

Vietnam committed a lot of crimes on the innocent human being.

by: Igor from: Russia
December 29, 2013 9:41 PM
Sam Rainsy is supported by some western countries because he is their son. Hun Sen is supported by China, Vietnam and others. The majority of Cambodian people support Hun Sen because Hun Sen saved millions of Campodians from the Khmer Rouge regime with the help of Vietnam. When the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, the Coward Sam Rainsy fled to a western country for his safety without caring for his people. Hun Sen was the only person who risked himself to save his people. Now cambodia is in peace, Sam Rainsy is returning and asking for power so such coward man is unrealiable and his promiss of democacy is only a lie.
In Response

by: Chivansuy from: Long Beach
January 05, 2014 9:49 PM
Some of these Russian people like Igor are crazy people. Igor must be related to Joseph Stalin who starved about 7 millions of Ukrainians to death between 1932 and 1933 and that is why he/she is proud of supporting criminal people like Hun Sen. They all come from the same hole of hell. During the Vietnam War, this crazy Russian people that helped Ho Chi Minh/Viet Cong and Ho Chi Minh helped the Khmer Rouge to power; after the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975, about 2 millions innocent Cambodian people were slaughtered by this Ho Chi Minh/Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen was one of the Khmer Rouge commanders. Without these crazy people like the Russian, the Ho Chi Minh, and the Khmer Rouge Hun Sen that created the Vietnam War in the first place, there would not be any killings in Cambodia so Cambodian people don’t need anybody to liberate or save them, simple as that.

Igor, bad people will be rotten in hell by God. Learn to do good thing for others so you can be blessed. We in the West have a lot of choices for our daily life because we are blessed by God for doing good things to others. We also have crazy Russian Vodka here too.

Stop invading other countries, and be one of us so you can have many choices like us.
In Response

by: mario grechi from: canada
December 31, 2013 9:02 PM
Only a Russian could see Hun Sen as liberator of the Khmer people,Some countries will never know what it means to live in a democracy.Nationalism is poison.

by: Peter from: Stockton
December 29, 2013 3:36 PM
For free and fair and for peace and stability, Cambodia needs a new election as soon as possible. This will bring peace to everyone.

by: Chivansuy Dara from: Long Beach
December 29, 2013 2:38 PM
Mr. Hun Sen ruled Cambodia over 28 years and has many chances to do good things for Cambodian people, but he chose not to do it. Under Hun Sen corrupt power, millions of Cambodian people are getting poorer and some of them sold their kids to brothel for survival and some people become a beggar in Thailand while he and his regime enjoy corrupt billions of dollars. Hun Sen uses forces to evict hundreds of thousands people and sold their land for his/CPP pockets.

Mr. Hun Sen is one of former Khmer Rouge commanders who is responsible for slaughtering millions of innocent Cambodian people knows only how to do cruel things in his life. For these reasons, majority of Cambodian people don’t want to vote for him because they don’t like him. Hun Sen commits so many crimes and he has a lot of sin. Supporting sin people are an act of wanting to be that kind of sin people.

Because majority of Cambodian people call for change, they did not vote for Mr. Hun Sen/CPP so he did not win the July 28, 2013 election and he robbed it. He did not want to call for the immediate re-election or investigate the election fraud that requested by the opposition Sam Rainsy/CNRP because he knows that he is not going to win---majority supports Rainsy/CNRP.

Mr. Hun Sen. must step down /resigns so someone else can have a chance to lead Cambodia to improve the living conditions there so people there can enjoy and live in peace. Over 28 years of ruling is enough.

The People Power will change Hun Sen and his regime for sure at the end because majority of people are fed up with his cruelties as mentioned above.

by: Cranksy from: USA
December 29, 2013 1:36 PM
What does it mean to be affiliated with a political party in Cambodia? What occupations do the unions affiliated with the ruling party represent? Why did 2000 workers block the road where the independent unions and those unions affiliated with the opposition party met?

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