Lowell-area Cambodians DC Bound to Protest Homeland Politics

July 26, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- Local Cambodian-Americans are gearing up to march on Washington -- all in support of the opposition party in their homeland.

This weekend, as Cambodia’s national election takes place, many Cambodians from around the country will descend upon the U.S. capital to protest the “sham” election.

They’re calling for a boycott of the election because Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government has dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), imprisoned and exiled its leaders, and shut down independent media across the country.

“We do not approve and will not accept this fake election,” said Chhan Touch, who’s involved in the Lowell Cambodian community. “We’re going to keep expressing our discontent with the Cambodia government.

“They claim it’s free and fair. It cannot be fair when the only major opposition party has been dissolved,” he added.

Touch is one of many who will be heading to Washington, D.C. on Saturday to protest the election.

“By coming in huge numbers, we’ll encourage the American government to continue putting pressure on Cambodia in a diplomatic way and to defy the dictator there,” Touch said.

The CNRP has launched the “Clean Fingers” campaign, which is calling for the boycott of this weekend’s election.

The opposition party says the prime minister, who has been in power for more than 30 years, has been advancing egregious attacks on democracy and human rights in Cambodia, with one goal in mind: to run unopposed in the election and solidify his rule for years to come.

The name of the “Clean Fingers” campaign references the ink used at ballot stations in Cambodian elections to indicate a person has voted, and the campaign is encouraging Cambodians to post pictures of themselves holding up “clean” fingers on social media to show their solidarity with calls for an election boycott.

“We’re encouraging those in Cambodia to join the boycott,” said Lowell’s Rithy Uong, president of the CNRP of America, who will be protesting in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

“We need to make sure their voices are heard, and that the elections are free,” he added.

Uong said it’s important for lawmakers to hear their protest, and to support their cause.

“We need to bring back real elections,” he added.

Mu Sochua, deputy president of CNRP, left Cambodia last year after the CNRP leader was jailed.

Speaking from Portugal last week, she stressed it’s important for Cambodians to not vote this weekend.

“People should call their relatives and relay them the message to join the boycott,” Sochua said. “This is a sham election.”

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.