The Cambodia National Rescue Party’s campaign for Sunday’s sub-national councilor election ended today with an energetic afternoon rally through the streets of Phnom Penh that drew up to 10,000 supporters as police stood by.
Authorities stuck true to their word that they would allow a peaceful march to go off unhindered, but large numbers of security forces were positioned at Wat Botum park, riverside and Freedom Park in anticipation of any incident.
One moment of tension came as the crowd – mostly on motorbikes and tuk-tuks – passed by Wat Phnom, a mere hundred metres from droves of police deployed to block access to Freedom Park and armed with gas canisters, batons and shields.
CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha briefly came face to face with barricades blocking the way towards Freedom Park, which their supporters began to move away, putting them on what appeared to be a direct collision course with police, until they quickly turned away down a side street.
Though some vociferous opposition supporters tried to further antagonise security forces and move closer to police lines, party officials managed to keep the crowd flowing away from the area.
Today’s march lasted more than three hours and choked traffic in the centre of town as it proceeded down the length of Monivong Boulevard after starting at the CNRP’s Meanchey district headquarters at about 3:30pm.
During the rally, military police spokesman Kheng Tito told the Post via text message that authorities were letting opposition supporters “go as they want” as long as they weren’t violent.
“We just care [about] public security and order for them all,” he said.
Sunday’s poll – campaigning for which officially draws to a close today – will see 11,000 or so sitting commune councilors cast ballots for district, municipal and provincial councilors – almost certainly upon party lines.
But the CNRP has tried to use the two-week long campaign period to show that it still has widespread support and momentum almost six months since its post-election mass demonstrations hit a peak in late December prior to a government crackdown.
As part of the election campaign, the CNRP has also attempted to bolster its support at the grassroots level by holding rallies across the country – a move they have claimed will also work to draw Cambodian People’s Party commune councilors to their side.
“We get more support. The people really need change for the better. The more brutal suppression [there is], the more people stand up,” party spokesman Yim Sovann said following today’s march.
The CPP, in contrast, have been absent from the streets over the past two weeks and are instead said to be targeting their commune councilors directly, to ensure they do not cross party lines on Sunday, though the party has said publicly it has no fears of that.