PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s opposition party declared Tuesday it will call for a street protest if demands for an impartial investigation of irregularities in the country’s recent general election are not met, raising further tensions over the disputed results .
Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy told a rally of as many as 10,000 supporters that the protest would take place in the coming days if the state National Election Committee failed to accept his side’s conditions for an investigation.
Earlier, he said his party will reject the official election results due to be announced this Saturday. The election committee has said it would ratify them four days later if it receives no objections. A complaint by the opposition would mean the committee would postpone ratifying the results until Sept. 8
Provisional results released by the government-appointed election committee favor the ruling party’s claim to have won 68 seats of 123 National Assembly seats against the opposition’s 55. Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will take office again if those results stand.
The opposition says it won 63 seats. Both projections show a substantial gain from the 29 seats the opposition had in the last assembly.
The threat to bring protesters into the streets ups the ante in the post-election maneuvering between Rainsy’s party and Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The prospect that the losing side will not peacefully accept the results has rattled some Cambodians who recall street fighting in the capital following previous elections.
The strong showing by the opposition has stirred passion among its supporters. In his spirited speech in a public park, Sam Rainsy sought to fan their enthusiasm for the long-odds battle against Hun Sen, who has led the country for 28 years.
“This time we’re not scared at all,” he said. “Don’t intimidate us. There will be a demonstration 10 times bigger than this rally in the upcoming days.”
His party charges that voter registrations were manipulated so that more than 1 million people may have been denied their right to vote. Several non-partisan groups have supported the claim.
Sam Rainsy on Tuesday released a letter to the election committee reiterating his party’s demand that a special committee be set up to investigate allegations of irregularities. Preliminary agreement was reached Saturday among the committee and the contending parties to form such a group, but the opposition declined to attend its organizational meeting the next day because the group’s membership was too limited.
He said that in view of the problems — including missing, duplicated and misspelled names of voters on the electoral rolls, and people registered at polling stations in areas where they were not residents — his party could not accept the results, and called for a special investigating committee to be established with representatives of the two major parties and Cambodian and foreign election observers, with the election committee as coordinator and the United Nations as mediator.
The election committee had agreed to allow representatives of the two parties join it as members, but with the U.N. and Cambodian civil society representatives serving only as observers.