takhmau, Kandal province – Thousands of people gathered Wednesday at Takhmau Park to watch a mini-version of the Water Festival, hosted by Prime Minister Hun Sen for top government officials and other dignitaries.
Fifty-eight boats, each of which were sponsored by a CPP official, competed in the daylong races on the Bassac River in the same style as the Phnom Penh’s Water Festival, which ended Tuesday.
Hun Sen sponsored 30 boats in the race, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng had three boats and Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An had one boat.
Hun Sen, who arrived at the competition in the afternoon, said his boat race was organized in the name of peace and national reconciliation. “This is a good time for the Kingdom of Cambodia, although our country still faces difficulty and poverty,” he told the crowd. “But what we have gained before going into the next millennium is peace and the hope of national unity.”
The boats competing Wednesday did well in the Water Festival competition or volunteered to participate, said Sok Bunthon, organizer of the competition.
“The ceremony is in order to congratulate the new millennium,” he said.
The gathering was also a party for top CPP officials, who sat on a covered stage and watched and cheered for their boats.
Mok Mareth, Minister of Environment, said he usually sponsors two boats.
“I came to cheer for my boats,” he said. “I hope they win.”
Hun Sen gave a trophy to the first place winners, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng gave out the second place trophy, and Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh awarded the third place winners.
There was no official prize for winning the race.
The sponsors each decided what prizes to give to their winning rowers, if any.
Yam Yin competed at the Water Festival, but he was a spectator on Wednesday for Hun Sen’s races.
“I am happy to see the boat race, although I do not know the reason why he is holding a ceremony here,” he said.
Some Cambodians who were not at the races questioned why Hun Sen needed to host his own boat race when the Water Festival was just held.
“Why does he have to have a boat race?” asked a motodop working in Phnom Penh who asked not to be named.
“He is trying to compete with the King.”
Sok Bunthon said the boat race hosted by Hun Sen has been held every year for the past five years.
Last year, the competition was held before the Water Festival, but this year organizers decided to hold it after the festival because of the millennium theme of the races.
Hun Sen said although the races are held in central Cambodia, he noted that there were Cambodians who came from as far away as the Cambodian-Thai border area to see or join the races.
Hun Sen compared Cambodians to the boat racers.
Like the competitors, Cambodians must work together to alleviate poverty and develop the economy.
“We are all in one boat and we must row together if we want the boat to go fast,” he said.
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