As the nation’s first-ever commune elections draw near, the CPP used Victory Day Over Genocide celebrations on Monday to heighten its prestige with voters, while others used the day for quiet reflection.
“This year, we celebrated bigger events than last year. Even though it is not yet a campaign period, we have lots of [activities] to do early this year,” Takeo province Governor Kep Chutema said.
Hundreds of ruling party faithful gathered at CPP headquarters early Monday morning to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of more than one million Cambodians through overwork, starvation, disease and execution.
The campaign season is scheduled to open officially Jan 18, and drawing attention to the liberation from the Khmer Rouge is a way to increase the party’s profile before the elections, Kep Chutema said.
The CPP is a successor party to the original Cambodian group that was installed in power with military and political support from Vietnam, whose forces remained in Cambodia 10 years. Many of the soldiers who fought with the Vietnamese in 1979 against the Khmer Rouge, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Senate President Chea Sim, are now leaders of the CPP.
The holiday remains a point of contention. A scuffle broke out Monday in front of the National Assembly when about 10 members of the Democratic Front of Khmer Students and Intellectuals were attacked while handing out leaflets protesting the commemoration of the holiday.
Although the student group regards the Vietnamese as occupiers and not liberators, others remember Jan 7 as a resurrection day.
“It saved me from hunger, suffering and killings,” popular video star Tep Rindaro said. “Jan 7 is my second birth.”
One Phnom Penh teacher who asked to remain anonymous said he understood why people resent the Vietnamese, but suggested these people miss the larger point.
“I regret [the Vietnamese] stayed in Cambodia so long,” the teacher said. “The most important thing, though, is that I survived.” (Additional reporting by The Associated Press)