Thousands of Cambodian opposition supporters held a demonstration this week to voice their anger over recent fiercely disputed elections.
The protest was organised by the opposition party, the CNRP, to send a petition with over 2 million thumb prints to the UN office.
They gather at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh... many wearing headbands with slogans like “Where is my vote?”
The protest was held to call for the government to allow an independent investigation into alleged election fraud.
“In the name of Cambodia and the anniversary to mark the Paris Peace Agreement, I would like to call the UN and signatory countries of this treaty to look at Cambodia again and help us to achieve democracy,” says Kem Sokha, CNRP Vice President.
The opposition alleges that the election was full of irregularities, including the removal of more than 1 million votes.
The official election results show that the CNRP made substantial gains, but opposition lawmakers have so far refused to take their seats in Parliament because of alleged election fraud.
Many of the opposition’s supporters come from rural areas.
61-year-old An Yoeun brought along her family from Takeo Province to join the mass protest.
“My son, my disabled mother and I, have come her to ask the CNRP and the UN for justice for our votes that were stolen, and to defend our freedom and rights.”
70-year-old Yin Roeun is from Kampong Cham province in the eastern part of the country.
“It’s the first time for Cambodia people to send petition like this to the UN. I hope to see justice as soon as possible.”
Protesters will also deliver official petitions to several foreign embassies.
The process of collecting the thumb prints was a challenge.
Phnom Penh City Hall asked the opposition party to stop collecting in public areas, claiming that it was disrupting public order.
“We do not ban CNRP activities, but they should uphold public order and not provoke social unrest. Let people live in peace,” says Sar Khen, Cambodia’s Interior Minister.
“The opposition party is going against the election law and they’re intimidating the people.”
But CNRP activist Sei Ha says many of his relatives were banned by local authorities from providing thumb prints for the opposition.
“It’s contrary to our country’s adherence to democracy. It’s abusing people’s freedom. The authorities should stop this and respect people’s freedom.”
And Ny Chakriya from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association says it was the government who violated the constitution.
“Local authorities are abusing human rights and the freedom of expression of Cambodian people. They have violated both the constitution and international law.”
Back at Freedom Park... opposition party president Sam Rainsy hopes that sending the thumb prints to the UN will make a difference.
“I told the UN that the thumb prints are from the Cambodian people, who demand a change of leader. I also told the UN that we can get one million more if we’re given another week. But so far we have gathered over two million. It’s our mission and we hope the UN will support us.”
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