An opposition mission to garner grassroots support in Oddar Meanchey province literally hit a road block yesterday when an ex-Cambodia National Rescue Party official rallied some 350 villagers to prevent party president Sam Rainsy from entering a pagoda.
The group used 27 homemade tractors to block the pagoda in Samroang town at about 8am, forcing the CNRP delegation to visit a nearby wat as part of their provincial tour to hold public forums and mark the religious Pchum Ben holiday.
Protest leader, Ken Kosal, a former CNRP councillor for Samroang town who defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in June, said the group was unhappy with Rainsy and other opposition officials for breaking promises to help villagers.
“We did not want him to enter Oddar Meanchey to meet the villagers and cheat people with his policy,” Kosal said, noting he had been an activist for almost 20 years.
“[Rainsy] promised to help protect and save the poor and elderly suffering land disputes and accidents, but so far he never helped as he promised.”
According to Kosal, “accidents” included storm and fire damage to homes. Among his grievances, Kosal also cited a land dispute with the military that had impacted his and 40 other families in Bansay Reak commune. He said this was just one of many land disputes in Samroang.
The protesters blocked the pagoda for about four hours. On Sopheak, governor of Samroang town, said police were deployed to prevent violence.
Bun Kim Heng, a CNRP councillor in Oddar Meanchey, considered the rally an effort by a “small group” to yield political benefits.
CNRP party spokesman Yim Sovann was more scathing. He said blocking Rainsy from the pagoda would not solve villagers’ problems, while such actions were made even more offensive given the Pchum Ben holiday.
“We went there for the Buddhist ceremony and during the Buddhist ceremony like Pchum Ben, those who do bad things will face responsibility for such a sin,” Sovann said.
After the incident, Rainsy hosted a public forum to discuss grassroots issues without any problems, Sovann said.
Sovann said though the protest may not have been deliberately engineered by CPP headquarters, the display reflected poorly on the ruling party and would not harm the opposition.
“We have experienced this issue a lot, and the more events like this, the more popularity the CNRP gets, the more support we get, so we are not concerned,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON