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Cambodia's Opposition Threatens Nationwide General Strike

Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), greets his supporters in Freedom Park, Sept. 17, 2013.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), greets his supporters in Freedom Park, Sept. 17, 2013.
Cambodia's opposition is threatening a general strike as it expands its protest of Prime Minister Hun Sen's disputed election victory.

Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy said on Wednesday that the one-day strike would be a response to what he called a "constitutional coup" by the government.

"In the air there is an idea of a general strike. So, the whole country for one day, we will call for a strike. All factories, all civil servants, all shopkeepers will stop working that day," explained Rainsy.

His comments came a day after Hun Sen was elected by parliament, which convened on Monday without the boycotting opposition MPs. The CNRP says opening parliament without the required number of opposition members is illegal.

The opposition refuses to take its seats in parliament unless the government agrees to an independent probe of alleged fraud during the July election that returned the long-ruling Cambodian People's Party to power.

Rainsy said the CNRP will not cooperate "in any manner" with the legislature or the government, arguing that its leverage is "strongest now outside the parliament." He said more protests were possible if the ruling party "continues to ignore the will of the Cambodian people."

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia analyst with the University of New South Wales, recently returned from a series of lectures in Cambodia. He tells VOA that Rainsy's supporters have little appetite for compromise with the government.

"They would be extremely disappointed, and they were very fearful when I was there, that he would cave in and show up in the opening of parliament, the National Assembly, and take seats there and even take positions in the government," said Thayer.

Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have held several rounds of unsuccessful talks aimed at breaking the political deadlock. The National Election Commission and the Constitutional Council have both ruled in the ruling party's favor.

Thayer says it is unlikely that Hun Sen will agree to an independent fraud investigation.

"For Hun Sen to agree to an outside body of that nature would be to say, 'Yes, the elections were manipulated with fraud, and the the CPP is responsible,'" said Thayer.

Thayer suggests Hun Sen could instead agree to form a bipartisan parliamentary group to look into possible political reforms.

Official results show that the opposition won 55 seats in the July 28 elections, compared to 68 seats for the ruling party. It was the CPP and Hun Sen's worst election performance in 15 years. Hun Sen has ruled the country since 1985.

Despite its gains, the CNRP maintains it was denied a victory due to widespread vote rigging. The government denies that charge.

Protests against the election results turned violent this month when a demonstrator was shot and killed during a clash with security forces.
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