The CPP’s celebration of the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge drew a crowd of 10,000 to party headquarters on Saturday, CPP officials said.
The festivities were met with rancor from members of the ultra-nationalist Khmer Front Party—who said they were prevented from protesting by the police—and apathy from some members of the public, who said the day meant little to them.
CPP and Senate President Chea Sim kicked off celebrations with a speech praising the victory over the Khmer Rouge, which he said was conducted with great support from Vietnamese volunteer troops.
“All of our people clearly believe that without the January 7 Victory Day, we would not have everything that we have today,” he told an audience of diplomats and CPP and Funcinpec officials.
Chea Sim also outlined Cambodia’s progress in the past year.
“Rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law have been steadily strengthened,” he asserted, citing the upcoming Senate elections—which some observers have said are undemocratic—as a “historical event in the development of democracy in Cambodia.”
Khmer Front Party officials claimed that 50 police officers surrounded their Tuol Kok district offices on Saturday to block their planned counter-demonstration.
Mao Sam Oeurn, the party’s general secretary, who said on Friday that the party had postponed its protest, said 27 party members were prevented from marching to the park near the National Assembly, where 10 to 15 police officials were seen posted. “This is a kind of threat on public gathering and expression that is guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.
The party had planned to protest perceived Vietnamese influence over Cambodia.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema wrote in a Thursday letter that the party had been denied permission to protest because of security concerns.
Hun Song, Tuol Kok district police chief, said only four police officers were in the vicinity of the party’s offices, and that they were there to patrol for thieves.
Several Cambodians said the occasion was a day for politicians—not the public.
Jan 7 “is a normal day like any other,” said Kuch Veng, a farmer of Krakor district in Pursat province. “[The Vietnamese] liberated us from genocide to live in hardship. It is the same.”
“I almost forgot [Jan 7],” said Teu Paet, a farmer who lives in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. “Nowadays, I only think about getting food to eat.”