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Cambodia's post-election protests just won't go away

After three months, thousands are still angry over rigged polls

Cambodia's post-election protests just won't go away

Picture: Al Jazeera

Kate Mayberry for Al Jazeera

October 30, 2013

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After three months of protests following disputed elections in Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy shows no sign of fatigue.

Returning to his party's headquarters after leading thousands of people on a six-hour march through the streets of Phnom Penh, the capital, Rainsy insists that the supporters of his Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) aren't tired either.

"The popular support is still there," he told Al Jazeera in an interview. "The people continue to demand justice. They want an independent and transparent investigation into the last election, given the number of serious irregularities that must have distorted or even overturned the will of the people."

Three months after the polls that returned the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to power, there have been few concessions to compromise over the disputed result. The CPP, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has largely ignored the opposition's protests. It convened parliament alone after Rainsy's CNRP boycotted the session, calling for an independent enquiry and reforming key institutions. Despite making some vague offers, the CPP has shown little willingness to accept any of the opposition's demands. 

"This was a razor-thin victory for the ruling party," said Laura Thornton, senior director of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which exposed serious flaws in the electoral rolls in an audit published four months before the election. "We are kind of at a crossroads. The government can go ahead in the direction of reform, embracing a more transparent society and changing the way business and government is conducted, or not. That's the path of repression."

Under Cambodia's system of proportional representation, the CPP secured 68 seats and the CNRP 55 seats in the election. In the previous parliament, the CPP and CNRP had 88 seats and 35 seats, respectively. But in terms of the popular vote, the result was much closer, with 3.2 million votes going to the incumbent CPP and 2.9 million to the CNRP. For their part, the CNRP says they ought to be entitled to 63 seats instead of 55.

The opposition won widespread support in the capital as well as from young people - more than half of Cambodia's 15 million people are under the age of 25 - with its promises to create jobs, help the poor and end land grabs that have triggered anger amid rapid economic growth. Others simply yearned for a change in government after three decades under Hun Sen, who first became prime minister in 1985 and has established a reputation as a ruthless political operator.

The discontent has even reached the country's Buddhist monks, who have traditionally provided spiritual and moral guidance to a nation still recovering from decades of conflict and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge.

Such is the depth of discontent that many younger monks say they can no longer stay out of the country's politics, as their elders demand.

Full Story: Cambodia's autumn of discontent 

Source: Al Jazeera


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