When you ask 10-year-old Yi Panharith who Sam Rainsy is, the fifth grade student answers right away.“Sam Rainsy is not a Khmer citizen,” he shouts.
Yi Panharith had vaguely heard the opposition leader’s name until he walked the short distance from his house to Phnom Penh’s Phsar Deum Thkauv Village 6 Primary School on Saturday, where he came across six handwritten placards criticizing Sam Rainsy and questioning his citizenship.
Posted on the gate of the Chamkar Mon district school, one of them clearly stated that the opposition leader is not a Khmer citizen.
“I don’t know if these signs have an educational value,” said Pen Huon, 53, Yi Panharith’s relative.
Primary school students returning to school after their three months’ vacation on Saturday were welcomed by anti-Sam Rainsy placards throughout Phnom Penh. Similar placards were placed on high schools last week. They have not yet been reported in the provinces but Him Sokleang, a teacher at Kandal province’s Tuk Lech Junior High School, said that at a meeting at her Takhmau district school, the administrators circulated a petition against Sam Rainsy for the teachers to sign.
Rong Chhun, president of Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said the placards are illegal according to Article 37 of the Statute on Civil Servants.
It states that civil servants are “strictly prohibited to use their functions and State’s materials for servicing political activities.”
“Public institutions must be neutral in a democracy,” said Mu Sochua, an opposition party member.
“I want to say to them: Please, please leave the children out of politics,” she said.
Rong Chhun said he plans to write to the Minister of Education Kol Pheng about the placards.
Mu Sochua pointed out that the Sam Rainsy Party had won over half the Phnom Penh votes in the 2003 national elections, and that the placards constitute political threats.