They handed out leaflets and carried banners, but that’s where the similarities between the Dhammayietra peace march and frenetic political campaigning on the streets of Phnom Penh ended.
Around 200 monks and nuns broke Buddhist lent this week to join the Venerable Maha Ghosananda on a Pre-Election Pilgrimage for Peace through three provinces. The marchers were a quiet and somber presence in the village of Svay Tany in Kandal province on Tuesday.
The marchers hope they can reduce voters’ fears before the election, said a human rights worker who was among the 20 or so foreigners at the back of the parade. “The march before the 1993 election seemed to have a huge impact, especially in Phnom Penh,” she said.
This march, which began in Takeo province Saturday, will reach Phnom Penh on Friday. Two hundred more supporters are scheduled to join it there.
“I think we will make a solemn statement for peace, different from the over-excitement of the political rallies,” said a long-time supporter of Ghosananda’s cause.
Maha Ghosananda said he feels sure the monks’ presence in villages has made a difference.
“The terrible experiences of the past two years have brutalized the character of Cambodian society,” Maha Ghosananda said, seated in Wat Prektauch. “People must be free from greed and ignorance. Politicians need to be trained from square one.”
Residents of Svay Tany, not far from the house of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, rushed to greet the procession as it passed through on the way to nearby Wat Prektauch.
Residents there were relieved to see monks instead of political campaigners, one villager said, thrusting her baby forward to be blessed.
“It is reassuring to see monks, especially the younger generation, doing something for peace in Cambodia,” an older man, Son Saveth, added.
Ghosananda, who is recognized internationally for his work, set up the Dhammayietra Center for Peace and Nonviolence in Phnom Penh in 1991.