Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthang and at least 30 other senior officials from the province will soon swap government orders for begging alms when they temporarily join the monkhood, authorities said.
Provincial Cabinet Chief Un Chhaly said Thursday that for a week in June, the officials would be ordained into Smach Meanchey district’s Wat Prek Svay pagoda in a ceremony presided over by the CPP-affiliated Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong.
“They will be ordained as a group,” Un Chhaly said of the June 22 ceremony. “Their ordination is to pay tribute to their parents and people who have died for our nation,” he said.
The officials due to don saffron robes include Deputy Provincial Governor Kham San, Provincial Police Chief Sam Khitvien and Provincial Military Police Commander Thong Narong, as well as district governors, the directors of several provincial departments and provincial military officials, Un Chhaly said. A committee of government officials has been planning the event for some time, but the official decision to hold it was not made until May 18, Un Chhaly said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he was baffled by the project, though he added that it appears to fit into a pattern of CPP officials trying to associate themselves with Buddhism in order to win votes.
“They should live by the Buddha’s teachings and not just go to the pagoda for publicity,” he said.
Mar Sophal, monitoring chief for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, also said the project may be a way for officials to curry political favor with villagers by demonstrating that they are “good people.”
So many officials leaving their positions at the same time could affect the provincial government’s ability to carry out its work, he added.
Yuth Phouthang, Kham San and Thong Narong are members of the ruling CPP, officials said, though the political affiliations of the other officials are uncertain.
Thong Narong denied that the project was part of a political campaign ahead of the 2008 election.
“We lived under the [Khmer Rouge] regime and joined the army to liberate the nation,” he said.
“Now Koh Kong has nice bridges and roads—a [man] must be ordained once in his life.”
Un Chhaly also denied that the project was a publicity stunt.
It is traditional for men to join the monkhood for a time prior to marrying, but these officials never had the opportunity to do so because of the civil war, he said. The project will have no impact on functions of government, Un Chhaly added.