A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Waiting game as CNRP mulls second petition, demonstrations

Acting leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, talks to supporters yesterday at the party’s Meanchey district headquarters. Photo supplied
Acting leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, talks to supporters yesterday at the party’s Meanchey district headquarters. Photo supplied

CNRP supporters will form a human chain to try and protect the acting president Kem Sokha from arrest, an activist said outside the party’s headquarters yesterday, while opposition lawmakers inside organised a second mass petition appealing for the King to help.
As of press time, the CNRP acting president remained holed up inside the building on National Road 2, where dozens of supporters have gathered in anticipation of his arrest following a decision by parliament on Monday that would allow police to ignore his parliamentary immunity and take him into custody.
Speaking yesterday, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said police were “going ahead” with the case, though Sokha was yet to be seized.
“The competent authorities can arrest him at any time,” Malin said. “[If they see him] they will arrest him.”

On his Facebook account yesterday, Kem Sokha uploaded several photos showing himself meeting with academics, monks and members of the Cham community, who had visited the CNRP headquarters to pledge their support.
Outside, 28-year-old small- business owner Song Sarath, who has spent five days at the building, said supporters planned to link arms to prevent police from entering.
“In the case there are arrest forces, we will create a human chain; it has been a plan people have discussed here,” Sarath said, stressing efforts would remain nonviolent.
However, speaking from his office at party headquarters, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party did not plan to resist if officers arrived to arrest Sokha, who has been provisionally charged with ignoring a second court hearing last week.
“They have guns and our hands are empty,” he said.
Sovann said mass demonstrations were the first response on the table if Sokha is arrested. “We have a strategy,” he said, declining to discuss how the party would mobilise supporters.
According to three CNRP lawmakers spoken to by the Post, the CPP has made overtures to the opposition about a potential deal to defuse the tension, which would involve sidelining Sokha from leadership positions in the party.
The terms purportedly offered by the CPP had not been discussed by the CNRP’s standing committee, Sovann said.
Many say the CPP is using an alleged affair by Sokha to pressure the opposition and government critics with a raft of questionable legal cases. Several members of civil society have been imprisoned over the scandal, and Sokha personally faces a defamation case andallegations he and two CNRP lawmakers procured a prostitute.
Sovann said the party was now organising another mass petition to King Norodom Sihamoni, similar to the appeal that was delivered to the monarch on Monday with more than 170,000 signatures.
Supporters at the CNRP's head office in Phnom Penh add their thumbprints to a petition against Kem Sokha's arrest on Sunday.
Supporters at the CNRP's head office in Phnom Penh add their thumbprints to a petition against Kem Sokha's arrest on Sunday. Hong Menea
The party wants Sihamoni to step in and stop what’s widely seen as a political crackdown that has violated the country’s constitution. Sovann conceded the King had never before intervened in politics but said they still believed in the monarchy.
“Even if it’s just 1 or 2 per cent, we still have to hope,” he said.
Plans for a second petition, however, came as it emerged that authorities were considering legal action over the first, after a video emerged in local news purportedly featuring CNRP supporters faking thumbprints. The video, allegedly filmed in Kandal province, does not show the men’s faces.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan claimed the party could face legal action for forgery, adding it would be left up to the Interior Ministry to investigate.
“They must be responsible before the law,” Eysan said. “If the authorities assess the case and find real evidence, it means they are hugging a grenade, and maybe this last grenade the CNRP cannot escape.”
However, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang rejected the claim the signatures were forged. He said the CNRP petition was a vehicle for the views of the citizens it represents.
“If you really want to know if the petition is fake or not, please allow us to invite all the signatories to the Royal Palace or Democracy square,” he said, using another name for Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Amid the heightened political tension, authorities have banned any unauthorised protests. Currently, a few dozen supporters remain outside CNRP headquarters, saying they felt it their duty to protect Sokha.
“When the patient is in trouble, the doctor can’t stand still,” said Tep Chan Sokeya, a 50-year-old housewife and Phnom Penh native who has spent six days outside the building.
“This is not a party with one or two seats, is has 53 seats in the assembly. They represent almost half of the eligible voters . . . If they arrest him, they should build a bigger prison, because I want to go, too.”
Monk Sim Sovandy, surrounded by half a dozen fellow Buddhist clergy, said at least 100 members of their network would stage nonviolent demonstrations if Sokha is arrested.
“We will follow Kem Sokha wherever he goes, whether he goes to Prey Sar or the court,” Sovandy said.

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