PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua) — Crowds of mourners turned out on Friday to bid their final farewell to former ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) chief and Senate President Chea Sim at an ornate, custom-built funeral pyre next to the capital’s Royal Palace.
“It was estimated that approximately 40,000 people took part in the funeral procession and cremation ceremony,” Phnom Penh Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche told Xinhua.
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, newly-elected Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, and Prime Minister Hun Sen were seen bidding their final farewell to the late leader at the cremation site.
After 108 Buddhist monks chanted in a religious language, participating leaders and foreign diplomats paid their last respects and laid flowers nearby the golden casket bearing Chea Sim’s body, King Norodom Sihamoni lit the funeral flame.
Delivering a speech at the somber event, which was live broadcast on all local television channels, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the cremation was a farewell ceremony, organized in accordance with the Khmer tradition and custom.
“The passing of Chea Sim is the loss of a top leader of the nation, people and CPP,” he said.
“Throughout his life, Chea Sim had struggled for national independence and overcome every obstacle for national salvation, building peace, national reconciliation, and development of Cambodian motherland.”
The prime minister continued to say that despite his death, his good deed and achievements for the nation would be remembered forever.
The country determined Friday as the official day of mourning for the late leader, decreeing that flags be flown at one-third below the top of the mast and that television stations suspend broadcasting joyful spectacles.
Chea Sim died on June 8 at the age of 83 after he suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments for years.
He was the president of the National Assembly between 1981 and 1993, and became the president of CPP in 1991. He also served as the president of the Senate from 1999 until his death.
One of the mourners said Chea Sim was an elite leader, who had devoted his life to the causes of national peace and development.
“He had joined to liberate this country from the Democratic Kampuchea regime and had greatly contributed to national peace, stability and development since the liberation day on January 7, 1979,” a 77-years-old man Touch Tes told Xinhua.
Political analysts said Chea Sim’s death did not affect the country’s political situation since the CPP has been united under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is the CPP’s vice president.
“His death will not impact much the political situation in Cambodia given Prime Minister Hun Sen will be surely become the president of CPP,” said Chheang Vannarith, lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds in Britain, predicting that the CPP would be in power at least for another decade.
According to the schedule, the CPP will hold a congress on Saturday to elect Hun Sen as the new CPP’s president.