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After poll, confidence dips: study

Confidence in the Cambodian economy has plummeted roughly 50 per cent in the tense post-election period, according to a market research survey of foreign business leaders working in the country.

The survey, conducted by Indochina Research and seen by the Post this week, found that 98 per cent of respondents expressed confidence when queried about a month before the national elections on July 28. But in a follow-up, weeks after the poll, the figure dropped to 47 per cent.

Karl Johan Remoy, general manager of Cambodia’s Indochina Research branch, said that, though there were fewer responses in the follow-up after the election, “this is still indicative of changing attitudes in light of recent political events”.

Tensions have been building ever since the election, which was marred by widespread allegations of voter fraud, took place nearly a month ago. Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders have rejected the results, despite gains that earned its lawmakers 55 seats in a 123-seat National Assembly long dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.

The government has repeatedly vowed to handle any protests that get out of hand, and uncertainty persists this week after observers questioned the validity of a National Election Committee examination of original voting documents.

Indochina Research’s “Foreign Business Leader Survey”, started in 2011, targets professionals working in Cambodia as CEOs, general managers or members of a senior management team. Approximately 150 surveys are sent out by email, and the response has consistently been about 30 to 40 per cent. The post-election part, the first of its kind since the survey started, generated feedback from a smaller sample of 19 foreign business executives.

Those surveyed work across the private sector, including consulting, banking, insurance, hospitality, travel, tourism and manufacturing.

Participants were asked before and after the election to rate their confidence in the Cambodian economy in three different phases: the next six to 12 months, from two to three years, and three to five years.

Remoy said that the staggering drop in confidence only applied to the first short-term period of six to 12 months.

“Foreign business leaders do not seem to think that current political events will influence Cambodia’s economy long term.”

Concerns about the economic impact of post-election protests and turmoil are nothing new. Economists and officials have traditionally correlated the health of the business climate with political stability. In comments after the election, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh warned earlier this month that demonstrations could derail growth and unravel into looting.

Protests in some areas of Phnom Penh on July 28 sparked rumours of unrest and a military crackdown. The fearful chatter flew into the provinces, keeping some of Phnom Penh’s garment workers who went home to vote away from the factory, threatening to slow production in Cambodia’s biggest industry.

Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said the survey results were not surprising.

“Because if you drive through the countryside, you can see the presence of military police, you can see military tanks and if you look into the media they spread fears of mass protest,” he said. “Political stability is so deeply linked with stability of supply, and therefore I really think that there will be a huge impact on the economy if this instability continues.”

He qualified his outlook by agreeing with the short-term view. The gridlock, he said, won’t escalate into a version of what’s going on in Egypt, where the military has ousted the president and killed hundreds.

Asked about the results of the study, Nguon Sokha, director-general of the National Bank of Cambodia, said she does not have recent data that would “justify this conclusion”.

The survey from Indochina Research, which works in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, also showed that businesses were more confident in the future of Cambodia’s economy in the pre-election query in June than they had been in previous years, with 98 per cent versus 80 per cent in 2012, and 82 per cent in 2011.

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