Dressed in the trademark black pajamas of the Khmer Rouge regime, wild-eyed young soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles drive the population out of Phnom Penh: a pregnant woman, a sickly old man on a drip, children. None are spared and many are later brutally massacred.
Life is even harder under the regime, children are starving but only given rice gruel to eat, men and women are slaughtered mercilessly—bludgeoned with axes and hoes, throats slit with bamboo fronds. A soundtrack of rifle fire interspersed with bellowing, evil laughter in the style of classic Hollywood villainy fills the air.
Such vignettes made up the scenes at Monday’s “Day of Anger”—the annual re-enactment of Khmer Rouge atrocities, through amateur theatrics, that took place at the Choeung Ek killing fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
First staged in 1984, Monday’s event—which was attended by about 2,000 people—seemed less a solemn day of remembrance and more a campaign drive for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP ahead of the national election in July.
“If it were not for January 7,” said Meas Mengthong, a representative of the pagoda boys association, which is part of the CPP youth movement, “the opposition would not have even had the chance to create an opposition.”
January 7 refers to the day Vietnamese forces and Cambodian defectors from the Pol Pot regime, most of whom are now senior CPP officials, overthrew the Khmer Rouge.
Praise for the CPP was the message repeatedly delivered throughout the morning by party faithful.
“To keep the country politically stable and peaceful, we have to keep to the win-win policy of Prime Minister Hun Sen,” said Leng Phaly, who defected from the SRP and is now undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Planning.
“We will all go to vote on July 28, and will vote for the Cambodian People’s Party because we trust and believe that only Prime Minister Hun Sen can lead the government.”
In the final scene of the play enacted for the crowd of mostly monks, government officials and students on Monday, the Khmer Rouge defeat was marked by young women carrying portraits of CPP president Chea Sim, CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Mr. Hun Sen. Young men were next up, carrying the three flags of the ruling party’s different incarnations and political trajectory: the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, and the CPP.
Math Saynop, a Cham Muslim representative, spoke at length about the persecution of her faith under the Khmer Rouge, and thanked the CPP for saving her community.
“The Cambodian Muslim youth and people strongly support the CPP leading forever,” Ms. Saynop said.
Sek Savuth, director of the faculty of theater at Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts, directed Monday’s Day of Anger performance.
He spoke of how hard life was under the Khmer Rouge and how the country has since made economic and developmental strides under the CPP.
“Today is ‘anger day’ and Cambodian people have to remember…. People, remember Hun Sen and remember to vote in this election,” he said.
Son Chhay, SRP chief whip, said it was disappointing to see the CPP politicizing what should be a day of remembrance.
“It is very sad the CPP continues to use these horrible killings for political gain,” Mr. Chhay said. “I think people have now learnt the purpose of this event,” he said.
“Their party has committed crimes against humanity—why don’t they mention that?” he said, adding that elements of Khmer Rouge-style politics, such as land displacement, remained in the government.
One person Monday, however, was not talking politics.
After releasing caged sparrows in Choeung Ek, former Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema—who is running to be a lawmaker in July 28’s national election and presided over Monday’s event—declined to answer reporter’s questions on the campaign.
“I can’t comment because today we are holding this event and I am very sad,” he said.