Archive for August 2013
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) promoted 341 officers to new positions within the army in the month leading up to the July 28 election, according to recently published issues of the Royal Gazette.
Dy Phan, a cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was one of 17 major generals promoted to lieutenant general by royal decrees signed between July 2 and July 25, according to issues of the Gazette published over the past two weeks.
Another 173 officers were promoted from brigadier general to major general, and 151 from colonel to brigadier general.
The promotions bring to 501 the number of RCAF officers who received a new general’s rank since mid-June.
Lt. Gen. Phan was director of Thai-Cambodian border relations for RCAF until he left the post some time last year and was made vice chairman of the military’s joint staff on July 23, two days before his promotion.
“I was promoted a rank because I think the Defense Ministry believes in me,” he said.
Lieutenant General Meas Sam Ol, director of the ministry’s personnel department, declined to comment on the promotions. RCAF Commander General Pol Saroeun and joint staff chairman General Kun Kim also declined.
Mr. Hun Sen’s two eldest sons were also among those promoted in June. His eldest son, Hun Manet, was promoted to lieutenant general on June 19 and Mr. Hun Sen’s second son, Hun Manith, was promoted to brigadier general on June 12.
In addition to helping the prime minister tighten his grip on the military, analysts have attributed the country’s bloated officer corps to the government’s efforts to maintain the military’s loyalty.
The government has informed foreign embassies in the country that the opposition’s threatened demonstrations over the election results are intended to illegally overthrow the elected CPP-led government, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that letters were sent to more than 40 embassies, along with local and international NGOs, warning them of the government’s fears that demonstrations held by the CNRP could be used as an attempt to conduct a coup.
“This was a serious letter to the embassies that some of the words that we have heard [at CNRP rallies] encourage people at the demonstrations to topple and change the government—words like ‘throw out, throw out, throw out,’ and ‘change, change, change,’” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said.
“If they love Cambodia, they would not do this activity. The Royal Government of Cambodia is the elected government,” he added.
Though the CPP’s claim to victory was supported by preliminary results released by the National Election Committee (NEC) earlier this month, the CNRP has also claimed victory and has demanded that an impartial investigation into election irregularities be conducted.
China and Vietnam are among a handful of countries that have congratulated the CPP on their victory, while Cambodia’s major Western donors, along with Japan and the majority of Asean member states, have refrained from endorsing preliminary election results.
Final election results are expected to be released by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia by September 8.
The E.U., U.S. and Australia have all backed calls from the CNRP and civil society for an independent investigation into the vote.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh confirmed Wednesday that the embassy had “received something from the Ministry of Interior,” though he did not elaborate on its contents.
“We encourage all parties to participate in a peaceful manner in this post-election environment. We do encourage peaceful activity,” he said.
A spokesman for the Australian Embassy said that the embassy has not received a letter from the Ministry of Interior, but nonetheless continued to back calls for a transparent investigation into election irregularities and called for respect for freedom of assembly.
“We welcome the calm conduct of the election…and call on all sides of politics to respect the universal right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and to refrain from violence,” a spokesman for the embassy said in an email.
At a rally attended by more than 10,000 CNRP supporters on Monday, opposition leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy promised to hold mass demonstrations if the CPP does not cooperate in an impartial investigation into alleged electoral fraud.
On Wednesday, the CNRP announced in a statement that it would preemptively stage a mass protest against election results on September 7 unless the CPP returned to the negotiating table and made progress in the formation of the investigation commission.
Elected CNRP lawmakers have also promised to boycott the National Assembly if their demands for an investigation are not met, a move that Prime Minister Hun Sen has said would allow the NEC to give their seats to the CPP.
Lt. Gen. Sopheak said that as long as the CNRP’s demonstrations remained “within the framework of law there will be no problem,” though he declined to elaborate on the size and scope of activities that would be tolerated by the government.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng has previously told the CNRP to keep their rallies within the confines of Freedom Park and warned that leaders of opposition protests will be held to account under the law should their activities turn violent or cause public disorder.
The opposition CNRP on Wednesday sought to reassure critics who have labeled the party xenophobic or racist, releasing a statement clarifying for the first time their position as a peaceful and tolerant party.
“The CNRP opposes violence, racism, xenophobia and discrimination,” the statement says, adding somewhat ambiguously that the party intends to “address issues related to the presence of foreigners in Cambodia via measures furthering the aims of the 1991 Paris Agreements.”
The CNRP had been criticized for its use of racially charged, anti-Vietnamese rhetoric to win political points in the run-up to the election, which has stoked fear among ethnic Vietnamese living in the country.
Asked Wednesday whether the statement was meant to assure the international community of its commitment to inclusive and non-racial policies, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann denied that his party harbored any prejudices.
“The CNRP does not have any policies against any nationalities, however, any democratic country with immigration laws must have those laws implemented correctly,” he said.
The statement, titled CNRP Position on Elections Democracy and Human Rights, also reiterated the party’s commitment to finding a peaceful solution for last month’s contested election—which both they and the ruling party claim to have won.
Mr. Sovann said that the timing of the press release was intended to communicate clearly that his party is fully committed to trying to resolve the current impasse amid the perceived unwillingness of the government to address evidence of serious electoral irregularities.
“There is still time. We have until September 8 and we believe we can negotiate a solution so we have invited the CPP to come to the table,” Mr. Sovann said, adding that a proper investigation was still necessary before its members take their seats in the National Assembly, otherwise the problems would continue on to the next election.
The statement also called for the government to ensure the right of Cambodians to freedom of assembly. The opposition is planning a mass rally for September 7.
The National Election Committee (NEC) on Wednesday publicly released official election documents from eight polling stations in Battambang City, revealing that forms essential to calculating results had been left blank at two booths on polling day.
The Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC), which has ordered the release of sealed documents from Kratie and Battambang provinces, on Wednesday instructed the NEC to open “safety package A” from 12 polling stations in Siem Reap province in order to compare raw data with figures that gave the CPP a victory in preliminary election results.
That data though, represented on form 1102 as a total number of votes for each political party, was conspicuously absent from two of the eight packages from Battambang City.
“[It’s] a technical error. The Constitutional Council will have this heard before [a court of] law,” Uth Chhorn, spokesman for the Constitutional Council, said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the blank forms raised serious questions, and condemned the Council for failing to release the total number of spoiled votes Wednesday.
“The question has to be asked: What records were used to give results from those two stations, because the 1102 is the document needed to record primary election results,” Mr. Panha said, adding that it was now impossible to verify results from the two booths.
Mr. Panha that the opposition CNRP had explicitly requested that the Council make available the number of spoiled and workable votes, but to no avail.
“I found it very strange that the CCC declined to announce those numbers,” he said. “They said they had no time, but from my observation, they only spent about one minute for each polling station at the announcement.”
Kuoy Bunroeun, a CNRP lawmaker candidate, said the blank documents rendered results from those booths illegitimate and called for the Constitutional Council to continue ordering the release of documents from the disputed July 28 election.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun on Friday said the door was open for opposition party president Sam Rainsy to become a lawmaker during the government’s fifth mandate, even though his parliamentary immunity has not yet been restored and he was not a candidate in last month’s national election.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference held at the National Assembly, Mr. Vun said Mr. Rainsy would be allowed to stand as a lawmaker after the next registration period for lawmakers opens in October and if another CNRP lawmaker agrees to resign in his place.
“Of course His Excellency [Sam Rainsy] can be a member of the National Assembly in the fifth mandate through the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly,” he said, referring to the recently amended Article 118 of the law.
Mr. Rainsy was not a candidate in the July 28 election because he was a convicted criminal at the time the party’s candidate list was submitted to the National Election Committee. But if one of the CNRP’s current elected National Assembly members resigns, along with all of its reserve candidates in a given constituency, Mr. Rainsy can take a seat in Parliament.
“After registration, his party’s candidates—both full candidates and reserve candidates—must all resign if they want His Excellency Sam Rainsy to appear on the candidate list,” Mr. Vun said.
Mr. Vun’s remarks came after senior CPP lawmaker and de facto party spokesman Cheam Yeap said last week that Mr. Rainsy had “no chance” of working as a lawmaker at the National Assembly in the fifth mandate.
Mr. Vun added that any decision to re-instate Mr. Rainsy as a lawmaker would not be a matter of compromise between the ruling CPP and CNRP, since there are already provisions in the law for such an eventuality.
Also Friday, Mr. Vun welcomed a decision made earlier in the day by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia to open sealed election documents showing the number of votes cast at each polling station. The CNRP has said the sealed documents must be consulted for a credible investigation into irregularities to go ahead.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Friday visited vendors in Phnom Penh’s Olympic and Russian markets and appealed to voters disgruntled by preliminary election results awarding a victory to the CPP to join a planned opposition rally at Freedom Park on Monday.
As he toured both markets, Mr. Rainsy embraced his supporters as the animated crowds offered him gifts of flowers and jockeyed to take photographs and videos of the opposition leader.
Opposition party president Sam Rainsy visits shoppers and vendors at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Market on Friday in an attempt to generate support ahead of a large CNRP rally scheduled for Monday at Freedom Park. (Siv Channa)
“I am very happy and excited to meet with the vendors today because they have a special relationship with me—we are like siblings,” said Mr. Rainsy, who walked around the crowded markets unencumbered by any police or security guards.
Speaking to reporters at Russian Market, the second of the two markets he visited during the course of the morning, Mr. Rainsy reiterated his party’s stance that CNRP lawmakers will not sit in the National Assembly until a solution to the impasse over allegations of irregularities during the July 28 national election is reached.
“When we have justice for the people and earn their trust by not allowing [the CPP] to defraud voters and have an election victory that people accept—at that time we will join the meeting of the National Assembly,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy also told vendors that he hoped they would support his party’s attempts to bring transparency to the election by joining a rally at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Monday, though he continued to underline that the event should not be considered a demonstration against the election results, but rather an opportunity to inform supporters of the country’s current political situation.
“I hope that a lot of people will join in the gathering—but this is a rally, not a demonstration,” he said.
With the CNRP expecting at least 10,000 people to turn out for the rally, authorities have been engaged in a counter-campaign to discourage people from taking part, with a visible security buildup and ominous rhetoric seeking to frighten supporters and keep them from participating.
Authorities even circulated petitions at Phnom Penh markets asking people to support preliminary results showing a win for the CPP and promising not to join any demonstration called by the opposition.
Vendors, motorcycle taxi and cyclo drivers around O’Russei Market reported that market staff had gone around Monday intimidating people into giving their thumbprint, while NGOs said that several other communes around the city also complained of feeling pressured into endorsing similar petitions.
But on Friday, the vendors at Olympic and Russian markets expressed optimism that Mr. Rainsy and his party could help bring an end to the current political stalemate.
“I support Mr. Rainsy and he comes to the market to visit us,” said a 56-year-old market vendor, who gave her name only as Ms. Long for fear of reprisals.
“People believe that the Cambodia National Rescue Party had an election victory, but we don’t know why it was changed like this,” she added.
A 28-year-old pork vendor at Russian Market, who declined to give his name, said that he hoped Mr. Rainsy could become prime minister because he would bring more prosperity to his business.
“I think that he is a good leader for Cambodia and I hope that he will help our vendors to sell more and more goods,” he said.
CNRP officials met on Friday with Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong to discuss final security arrangements for Monday’s rally, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
After the meeting Mr. Socheatvong said he had passed on the opposition party’s requests to the Interior Ministry with the stipulation that the rally finish by 6 p.m.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that he had received the request and had added some further rules ahead of the rally.
“We agree on three points: The gathering has to finish at 6 p.m., we will only allow 6,000 people to join and people from the provinces are not allowed to join in,” he said.
“We don’t allow them to march down the roads and the CNRP must have their own security guards to keep the gathering in place and cooperate with our forces outside,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said, declining to say what measures would be taken if more than 6,000 people turn up to Monday’s rally.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said it would be difficult to moderate the number of people coming to the rally.
“If people come, people come. How do you stop them? All I know is there will be a lot of people,” she said.
Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said this week that any attempt to disturb security at the rally would not be tolerated and security forces were fully equipped to quash any violence.