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A lesson in non-violence

CNRP supporters role-play during a mock demonstration at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh
CNRP supporters role-play during a mock demonstration at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. HONG MENEA

A lesson in non-violence

The Cambodia National Rescue Party yesterday made its final public preparations for Saturday’s planned peaceful demonstration, with party leaders emphasising last messages of non-violence to their assembled faithful at a Freedom Park training session.

The training involved meditation and prayers from masses of kneeling supporters clutching flowers, while on stage role-plays split followers into groups of “police” and “demonstrators” who showed off practical examples of peaceful demonstration techniques for the crowd.

The message – repeated endlessly to the crowd of several thousand – was clear: stay calm and do not react.

The training comes only two days after party leader Sam Rainsy wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni to request royal intervention into the continued electoral impasse.

“I [respectfully ask] the King to help and intervene in order to find a resolution to election irregularities in order to have transparency and justice as demanded by the Cambodian people,” Rainsy wrote in his September 2 letter, which was disseminated yesterday.

At yesterday’s event, Rainsy said he had received a reply from the King that thanked the CNRP for organising a non-violent and peaceful demonstration in keeping with the nation’s “dignity”.

As the election stand-off drags on, the universally respected monarchy is seen by some as the only institution that can broker a solution.

The CNRP has repeatedly insisted that its demonstration is calling for the establishment of an independent probe into election irregularities, though prospects of such a committee have increasingly dimmed.

Deputy party leader Kem Sokha re-emphasised that point yesterday, with his and other leaders rhetoric taking on a particularly spiritual dimension following the CNRP’s Monday announcement that the demonstration would be one of “prayer” and “contemplation”.

“Non-violence will bring a strong victory. We are not [aiming for] a revolution, a war, a coup or [political] terrorism, but we do seek justice,” he told the crowd.

“We are … [teaching our supporters] how to calm their spirits,” Sokha said.

Speaking with the Post on the condition of anonymity yesterday, a foreign “peace expert”, who was called in by the party to lead internal training just a week ago, said there was a misconception amongst Cambodians that non-violent protest is not really protest.

“In the first meeting I told them, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, all of them were jailed, and two of them got killed, so you have to realise the consequences [of this kind of protest],” he said.

“If you get beaten up, you have to take it.”

He added that the political philosophy of the demonstration was based on “reconciliation” – which in practice means treating police and security forces like your own.

The CNRP aims to use such an approach on Saturday, when candles, incense, prayers and flowers will be held by demonstrators in front of police, who will also be offered water by protesters.

“The goal of non-violent protest is always to be reconciled with the oppressors. The way the [CNRP] is developing their plan is very much in line [with these basic principles],” the peace expert said.

There were signs yesterday that the opposition’s efforts to steep supporters in such principles was paying off, though how demonstrators might respond in the uncontrolled environment of a real stand-off remains to be seen.

“I came today to learn about non-violence and now I understand how to calm my heart and spirit [if provoked],” Sok Makar, 33, said.

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