Sep 14 2013
Although the Cambodian general election took place in late July, things are not quite back to normal in the Kingdom of Wonder. Here’s your cheat’s guide to Cambodian politics and what to expect during upcoming protests on 15-17 September.
What’s the problem?
The general election took place on 28 July 2013 and the preliminary results showed a win, with a reduced majority, for the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) were unhappy with the results and cited cases of vote buying, intimidation, ‘ghost voters’ and ballot counting fraud. The official results, released on 8 September, showed no change, with the CPP on 68 seats and the CNRP on 55. The CNRP believes it won 63 seats, based on its own figures added up at polling stations. The government has refused to allow an independent election review and the National Election Committee says there were no irregularities with the vote. The CNRP have announced they will boycott the first session of the new parliament — which must be held within 60 days of the election — unless a joint committee is set up to investigate election irregularities.
The leader of the CPP is Hun Sen, one of the longest serving prime ministers in the world. He has been in power, including coalition governments, since 1985. He is famous for long speeches (his record stands at 5 hours and 20 minutes for a televised parliamentary speech) and many column inches have been dedicated to his political machinations. The opposition CNRP is an amalgamation of two other parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. The joint leaders are Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, who was convicted of criminal defamation, destruction of property and racial incitement in two court cases in 2005 and 2010. He lived in self-imposed exile in France for several of the years between 2005 and 2013 years before being granted a royal pardon ahead of the election.
The CNRP has been motivating supporters to take part in protests against the election results and the lack of a joint election investigation. A 15,000-person prayer meeting protest took place peacefully in Phnom Penh on 7 September, and more protests are planned nationwide for 15-17 September. This will include marches and sit-ins at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, with an emphasis on non-violent protest.
Nevertheless, things are becoming a little more tense in the capital. On 13 September, an explosive device was found close to the National Assembly and three M79 shells were uncovered close at Wat Phnom and Freedom Park. There are many more gendarmes on the street than usual, fresh from riot training, although those skills haven’t been required to date.
So, if you’re planning to be in Phnom Penh over the next few days, we’d like to repeat our suggested mantra for foreigners to follow at protests: keep your distance and don’t get involved. Be aware that travel around the city is likely to be restricted by road blocks or marches. Affected areas will probably be around Wat Phnom, Independence Monument, riverside and Norodom Boulevard.
(Perhaps you should spend a couple of days by the pool instead …)
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