Thousands of Cambodian People’s Party supporters gathered yesterday morning to celebrate one of the Kingdom’s most divisive national holidays, while the opposition was unusually quiet following warnings that criticising the celebrations could end the political deal.
January 7, Victory Over Genocide Day, marks the anniversary of the fall of Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people over its nearly four years in power.
While the ruling CPP holds annual large-scale events to mark the day that Vietnamese forces and members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government toppled the Khmer Rouge, opposition politicians have argued that the anniversary should be mourned, not celebrated, as it marks the start of a 10-year Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
Speaking to about 15,000 supporters gathered yesterday at CPP headquarters, honorary party president Heng Samrin said the “most auspicious occasion” was celebrated to “refresh our memory of the historic victory”.
The address marked the third year that CPP president Chea Sim – a key Khmer Rouge defector – did not deliver the address. Sim has been increasingly pushed out of the party limelight while battling a string of illnesses.
In his own speech, Samrin yesterday lambasted “ill-willed persons and circles who continue to oppose the January 7 victory due to their perfidious and dangerous political ambitions,” and warned opposition politicians to “take precaution in making public statements for the sake of the [political] agreement” reached in July.
Seemingly heeding to Samrin’s demands, multiple opposition lawmakers remained tight-lipped yesterday.
Acting party president Pol Ham had only a measured response.
“Individual politicians have different opinions on this history, so we don’t want to criticise or oppose this anniversary, which depends on individual views,” he said.
However, he added, his opinion on the anniversary had not changed.
“For me, I used to struggle against the Vietnamese armed forces in the country, so therefore my position has remained the same. But I am not interested in going over the old story now,” he said.
Political analyst Ou Virak said both the CPP and CNRP needed to adopt a more measured approach.
“Firstly, it marks the end of the Khmer Rouge – something we need to remember and celebrate – but in the ’80s we were victims of history,” he said. “If Cambodia comes to terms with that reality, we can debate how to really, truly move forward.”