Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Big demonstration today to protest the 'irregularites' that delivered another five years of power to long standing 'strongman' (dictator) Prime Minister Hun Sen

7 am. Yesterday’s rumour (Phnom Penh thrives on them) was that all the major arterial roads into Phnom Penh would be blocked this morning to prevent upwards of 600 truckloads of people from the provinces from getting to the demonstrations. It seems that the rumour was just that and that the roads remain unblocked.

Sam Rainsy, President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party
How many demonstrators will turn up? My guess is that Sam Rainsy’s opposition Cambodian National Rescue party needs upwards of 30,000 to convince Prime Minister Hun Sen that these protests are not going to end until there has been an independent investigation into the disputed results of the July 28 elections.

After close to 30 years in power Hun Sen (an old fashioned 20th century dictator) cannot risk allowing an independent investigation to occur, so the standoff will continue until the Cambodian people get sick of protesting or until Hun Sen gives his police, personal body-guard (all 10,000 of them!) and army the go-ahead to resort to serious violence. This is his style.

Bloody violence may have the desired effect of bringing the demonstrations to an end or it may have the reverse effect of convincing those who are not yet convinced, that it is time for Hun Sen to retire and allow true democracy to flourish in Cambodia and not the sham version of it that has, since the 1993, received the tacit support of the international community – including Australia.

If Sam Rainsy and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party do manage to make Hun Sen’s presence as Prime Minister untenable, no doubt Australia and the rest of the international community will desert him in droves (as they have other dictators) and make the usual clichéd comments about the need for democracy to flourish etc. The fact that Australia and the international community has, in effect, been propping up Hun Sen’s dictatorship through foreign aid all these years will be conveniently forgotten.

The huge cuts to Australian foreign aid would be wrong if indeed the money was being spent to alleviate poverty and its associated ills in Cambodia and other 3rd world countries. If this aid money makes it possible for regimes such as Hun Sen’s to outsource all social services to the international donor community we become complicit in the human rights abuses that occur. Poor Cambodians are now so dependent on international aid that the withdrawal of it would cause enormous harm to the most vulnerable members of Cambodian society. The government knows this and can, as a result, hold a gun to the international aid community’s head: “You cut off the aid and it is poor Cambodians who will suffer.”


It is not yet midday in Phnom Penh and Freedom Park is half filled with Cambodians from all over the country. There are no road blocks, no heavily armed and plexi-glass shielded police in view, there is no razor wire and the mood is a festive one.

The exercise carried out in Freedom Park by the authorities two days ago was a photo opportunity intended to intimidate.  The ploy has not worked. Intimidation not longer works on a population that is as well informed as Cambodians are now as a result of social media and a very well organized opposition party.

Hun Sen keeps drawing lines in the sand and Sam Rainsy’ keeps stepping over them with a smile on his face. The more the Cambodian people ignore the directives handed down by the authorities, with no adverse consequences, the more they feel emboldened and the less they fear the government. A dictatorship whose people have ceased to fear the dictator is in deep trouble!

The latest line drawn in the sand by the authorities is that whilst the size of the demonstration can exceed 10,000, the number of those who march this afternoon to the  United Nations office in Phnom Penh and Embassies, must not exceed 1000. “…In order to maintain security, social safety and public order…”says the municipal governor of Phnom Penh.

How, even if he wanted to tried, could Rainsy stop any and everyone at the demonstration from joining the chosen 1000 in the march this afternoon to the UN offices? It is not going to happen. It must be clear to the ruling party that it is not going to happen. So how will the authorities respond? The police spokesman says, “We will use police to maintain public order, but if police lose control we will send military police to crack down on the demonstrators until we win.” 

Is he serious or is this just another attempt at intimidation? We shall se in a few hours.

The Australian embassy and most other embassies in Phnom Penh have agreed to accept petitions calling on them to intervene in the current political deadlock in accordance with the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement of 1991 (today is the 22nd anniversary) that they all signed.

The petitions have been signed with the thumb prints of 2 million Cambodians.

The international community is adept at turning a blind eye to Hun Sen’s ruling party’s ongoing human rights abuses but will it be able to ignore 2 million Cambodians who are asking for nothing more than that there be an independent investigation into the recent election results?


Early afternoon in Phnom Penh. With the commencement of the demonstration still officially a couple of hours off, Freedom Park is now two thirds full.

The Cambodian National Rescue party has issued a Statement about the NON VIOLENT MASS DEMONSTRATION that will occur later in the day:

“The Non-Violent Demonstration at Freedom Park from 23 – 25 Octm, 2013 is conducted for:

1/ Demand for the justice for voters related to  irregularities during the  elections for the 5th Mandate of the  National Assembly.

2/ Demand for the guarantee of justice for voters in the future.

3/ Demand for the establishment of credible mechanisms for future electoral reforms based on the recommendations of the United Nations, the European Union, the National Democratic Institute and COMFREL.

4/ Demand for the Royal Government to strictly implement the 23rd Oct  1991 Paris Peace Accords with the protection of human rights, respect for the principles of multi-party democracy as stipulated in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party reiterates its position of non-violence and peaceful mass demonstration from 23-25 October, 2013.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party appeals to all compatriots participating in the mass demonstration to strictly maintain high morals in order to ensure peace and non-violence. The CNRP also calls on the authorities in charge to hold full responsibility for the people and the demonstrators  in finding peaceful and non-violent solutions to unforeseen incidents in order to avoid violence during the demonstration.

The Cambodian National Rescue party appeals to the authorities to investigate with full competence and to take efficient measures against individual(s) with the intention of creating incidents during the mass demonstration.


At least 20,000 people attended day one of the demonstrations. The atmosphere was festive. Most also joined Sam Rainsy in his march to the UN to deliver a copy of the petitions with 2 million thumb prints. There were lots of uniformed police stationed along the way, armed with batons and plexi-glass shields, but they kept their distance and did nothing to provoke trouble. Their presence (totally unnecessary with peaceful marchers) was designed to intimidate but the days when such intimidation will work are over.

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