Cambodians are this week celebrating Pchum Ben, or Ancestor’s Day, an important religious festival in the Khmer calendar. Despite rising political tensions ahead of next year’s election, Cambodians have headed to the pagoda to give offerings, putting aside concerns over their country’s future.
Earlier this month, the leader of Cambodia’s opposition, Kem Sokha, was arrested in a pre-dawn raid at his home in Phnom Penh and later charged with espionage. Independent and U.S.-linked media outlets have been shuttered amid growing anti-Washington rhetoric from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Despite the growing tensions, Pchum Ben celebrations continued as usual, according to attendees.
Nou Linna, 35, who visited Ounalom Pagoda for the festival, said that she went along without fearing repercussions from the political tensions.
“It will not affect the festival since the people are knowledgeable about politics and the festival. Politics will be left to one side, while Buddhism will always be preserved since we are all Buddhist,” she said, adding that she thought fewer people had attended the pagoda than in previous years.
Chouk Vanroth, who was also out celebrating Pchum Ben this week, said he felt he had to continue the family tradition of offering food to the deceased.
“Doing good deeds is different from politics. We should follow our practices and traditions. However, there are some concerns over the political tensions and we are worried,” he said.
Sour Ty, lighting an incense stick at the pagoda, said that while during the festival politics was sidelined, he hoped that “the good deeds that have been done by the Khmer people help improve the political situation”.
“That’s how politics should be. Sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it’s cold. We should do more good deeds to cool the tension down.”