CNRP Supporters Run Through Practice Sit-In for Saturday

The opposition CNRP on Wednesday held its second and last day of training for party supporters ahead of its mass demonstrations planned for Saturday driving home its message of peace and nonviolence.

Amid persistent and ominous warnings from the government that the demonstrations may turn violent, and a first round of training for party supporters on Sunday that proved difficult to manage, Wednesday’s session was a decidedly tame affair.

Volunteers act out a confrontation between protesters and police at Phnom Penh's Freedom Park on Wednesday as part of training in how not to behave during Saturday's planned demonstration by the CNRP against the preliminary results of July's national election. (Siv Channa)
Volunteers act out a confrontation between protesters and police at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Wednesday as part of training in how not to behave during Saturday’s planned demonstration by the CNRP against the preliminary results of July’s national election. (Siv Channa)

At Sunday’s session, volunteers conducted role-playing exercises in which dozens of them acted as “protesters” or “police” pushing and pulling one another with little obvious aim.

At Wednesday’s session, having apparently learned from the debacle, the CNRP instead had about 200 volunteers roped off and sit through the event in near complete silence while they and about 1,000 spectators watched a half-dozen actors show them on stage how not to behave, charging at the “police” before breaking off. As a counterpoint, the “protesters” followed up by sitting in front of the police in silence.

“Today we practice how to behave to secure our success at the September 7 nonviolent demonstration,” CNRP president Sam Rainsy told the crowd. “We train to hold incense, candles and flowers. We will preach and be gentle.”

Both the CNRP and ruling CPP are claiming to have won the July 28 election. The National Election Committee is almost sure to confirm its preliminary results giving the CPP the win on Sunday, but the CNRP is still hoping to pressure the government into an independent investigation of the vote—marred by widespread reports of irregularities—by staging mass demonstrations starting Saturday.

Amid persistent government warnings of violence, however, the CNRP has recently started playing up the event as a day of prayer.

“Nonviolent demonstrations will bring more success than violent ones,” CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said. “We encourage the people who love justice and the nation to come. If we come together, we’ll succeed.”

Mr. Sokha also advised the crowd that they could help keep tensions down on Saturday by choosing women—the older the better—to speak with the police.

“Make the people with weapons see that if they shoot us, it’s like they shoot their mothers, and if they arrest girls, it’s like they arrest their own daughters,” he said.

Those in the crowd seemed to endorse the opposition’s less confrontational tack.

“We can reduce violence by not shouting,” said Yi Sokha, who watched the demonstrations from the sidelines. “Praying and meditating doesn’t make us weak or afraid; it makes us brave and not scared.”

Chhoeun Sokunthea endorsed the shift in emphasis as well.

“It’s a good idea because Cambodia has a lot of experience with [being] hurt and the government always fights the protester,” he said.

And though Mr. Sokunthea planned to join Saturday’s demonstrations, he was also resigned to failure and saw little hope of convincing the government to concede to an independent investigation of the elections.

“I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if they would succeed. “I don’t think the government is humble. They do whatever they want.”

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