18 December 2013
After tossing a handful of salt onto burning coals in a large steel bowl in front of a straw effigy of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Choun Sambath, 40, wished a curse on the premier.
“We get so frustrated with Hun Sen!” Sambath shouted, after participating in the Khmer Buddhist traditional ceremony.
The third day of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s planned continuous demonstrations at Freedom Park yesterday was marked by a heightened sense of religion, with CNRP president Sam Rainsy and deputy president Kem Sokha taking part in a separate Buddhist prayer ceremony before leading thousands on a march through downtown Phnom Penh.
On a small, makeshift stage set up in the centre of Freedom Park, the ceremony was meant to evoke the spirit of patriotic Cambodians who have died and to soften the hearts of Cambodian People’s Party leaders to the point of admitting defeat.
During a speech after the observance, Sokha said that if the ruling party disapproves of the CNRP’s demonstrations, it should hold a new election to appease those who object to the results of July’s national election, which has been marred with reports of irregularities.
“If the CPP does not want people to publicly protest to demand justice, they must please organise a new election in order to calm people down,” Sokha said.
About 2,000 people then followed Rainsy and Sokha, who jumped onto the back of a pickup truck, which drove at a walking pace away from Freedom Park. Rainsy waved from the moving vehicle, leading the giddy mob through the capital’s centre.
Traffic on Monivong Boulevard was brought to a stand-still for a few minutes at about 6pm, with chanting, flag-waving demonstrators on foot and motorbikes overwhelming the road’s southbound side when the parade passed Calmette Hospital.
Police presence was practically invisible during the rally and march, but Ministry of Interior spokesman Kieu Sopheak decried the demonstrations as illegal, adding that holding a new election is impossible under Cambodian law.
A letter signed by Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Seng Ratanak that Rainsy and Sokha received also said the demonstrations were illegal.
Earlier in the day, fewer than 1,000 people stood in front of the stage or sought shelter under tents, enjoying music, comedy and magic shows in the grey and drizzly morning and afternoon.
Some in attendance handed out plastic ponchos intermittently as rain intensified and let up throughout the day.
The salt and coal curse on Hun Sen which some monks and demonstrators participated in is severe, said But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, after the rally.
“[It means] cursing someone … not only to death, but to also spoil everything; spoil fortune and fame,” said Buntenh, who was not present for yesterday’s ritual.
“This is the last choice; we tried to have an election, then we tried to depend on the King.”