Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday doubled down on his May pledge that the annual Water Festival and accompanying boat races – held only intermittently and in truncated fashion since tragedy hit the 2010 celebration – “must” go forward this November.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education yesterday, the prime minister told students that the festival would proceed this year regardless of the water level, which last year was used as the rationale for cancelling the event.
That move, which had come just two weeks after the premier had pledged that it would go on as planned, was widely criticised by analysts as an attempt to prevent an influx of crowds into the city amid fears of political demonstrations over the beating of two opposition lawmakers and the ouster of CNRP acting president Kem Sokha from his National Assembly post.
“This year’s water festival will be celebrated even if the water level is only two metres deep,” Hun Sen said yesterday, contradicting his claim last year that the Tonle Sap’s 4.2-metre depth had been too shallow for rowboats and warranted the cancellation of the festival. “The water level this year is better than last year’s.”
Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology spokesman Chan Yutha could not be reached yesterday.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada told the Post that a meeting had been held with the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals (NCONIF) to discuss the festival. He said that both National Police and military police would be deployed on the days of celebration to ensure social order, though he declined to provide details on strength and methods of deployment.
“Let’s assess the situation first … There is still a long time to go … For a big event like this, we have to have a clear security strategy and what we should do,” he said.
In November 2010, in the Kingdom’s largest loss of life in peacetime, 353 people were killed in a crush when crowds became bottlenecked on a bridge connecting Koh Pich to the mainland and pushed forward in a panic.
A government inquiry that followed found no government or police officials were at fault for the crowd control issues.
When asked yesterday whether prisoners would be granted royal pardons this Water Festival, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Kim Santepheap said that, while it was indeed a long-standing tradition, no meeting on the issue had yet been scheduled.
“Normally there are three times [prisoners receive royal pardons] in a year … The ministry is waiting for the request from the provincial prisoners committee,” he said. The Water Festival is slated to be held from November 13 to 15 this year.