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Posted by: | Posted on: October 23, 2013

As Opposition to the Regime Mounts, Cambodia’s Capital Braces for Bloodshed

As Opposition to the Regime Mounts, Cambodia’s Capital Braces for Bloodshed

Sensing change in the air, an emboldened opposition takes on strong-arm ruler Hun Sen

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TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / Getty ImagesCambodian police officials stand guard as Buddhist monks and supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party chant near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Sept. 21, 2013

Cambodia is gearing up for more mass rallies, with up to 50,000 people slated to attend a three-day opposition demonstration beginning Wednesday.

MPs-elect for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are boycotting the National Assembly in protest at alleged irregularities they claim cost them victory in recent general elections. CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has demanded international intervention and also threatened a general strike. The turmoil has alreadyclaimed one life, and fears are growing of further bloodshed.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of strongman Prime Minster Hun Sen, who has held power for 33 years, won 68 out of 123 legislative seats at the ballot box on July 28. However, the opposition claims they were defrauded out of eight seats that would have swung the balance of power. “It is frustrating [not being in parliament], but we are all united behind the boycott,” says Keo Phirum, a CNRP MP-elect for Kratie province.

Not everyone agrees that the CNRP won the most votes. Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, says that opposition politicians “should just admit that they didn’t get enough votes” and instead “emphasize there were significant irregularities.” Allegations of vote buying, intimidation and “ghost voters” swooping in to sway borderline constituencies have also not stopped international governments from tentatively recognizing Hun Sen’s victory.

(MORE: Back From Exile, Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Brings Thousands Onto the Streets)

Nonetheless, discontent over land rights, deforestation, extractive industries and rampant corruption is running high, and a groundswell of opposition is developing as people sense that change may finally be possible. “It is remarkable, the absence of CPP supporters in public, on TV or radio,” says prominent political analyst Lao Mong Hay.

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