The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has organized a ceremony to remember those who died during the Khmer Rouge regime to launch its political campaign for local elections in June.
The event, commonly referred to as the “Day of Anger”, is planned for May 20.
Analysts and election observers said that Prime Minister Hun Sen was attempting to use the memory of Khmer Rouge victims to score political points.
In a letter dated April 18 and signed by CPP vice president Say Chhum, the ruling party ordered officials to prepare for an election campaign between May 20 and June 2, two days before the election is due to take place.
Sam Kuntheamy, head of local election watchdog Nicfec, said that using past tragedies to try and win votes was exploitative.
“If their political message is that without them there could be a second Khmer Rouge, it will not work on the people. The people don’t believe a regime like this will come back,” he said.
Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, confirmed that the CPP’s strategy of holding the ceremony to begin the campaign was to try to win over voters.
“With the Cambodian People’s Party, there is peace. How would peace take place if there was no the Cambodian People’s Party?”
Sam Rainsy, the former opposition leader, wrote on Facebook that the Cambodia National Rescue Party was the only party to have held annual remembrance ceremonies on April 17, the day the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, “whereas the CPP has just ignored it.”
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said dredging up memories of the Khmer Rouge regime was part of the routine playbook during election campaigns.
“For the past 20 or 10 years, using "vision" to do politics was seen as impossible. But it’s possible now and it’s very important. It’s important to attract support from youths,” he said.
He added that a new generation of Cambodians had been more exposed to the world and different ideas and would not be swayed by outdated campaign tactics.