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Alcohol ban? Cheers to that

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People drink beer on the eve of commune elections on Saturday in Kampong Cham town despite a government ban on the sale of alcohol. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

On Saturday night, cans of Cambodia beer stood next to Styrofoam plates of chicken skewers on a table outside the riverside hotel where Ngoun Theang, 26, and his friends were hanging out.

The scene would not have been out of a place any other night, but in the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s two-day alcohol ban ahead of the elections, the shared brews could have spelled trouble.

Not that Ngoun Thean was concerned.

“I support and agree with the banning from the government … but I think for us to drink in a small setting like this, it’s okay.”

He added that he planned to vote the following morning and that knocking back a few would help him get a good night’s sleep.

That attitude seemed prevalent across Kampong Cham town, where the good times kept rolling at bars and markets.

The prime minister banned the sale and consumption of alcohol over June 2 and 3 to prevent unrest during the commune elections.

According to a copy of the directive, the two days of enforced sobriety applied to both Cambodians and foreigners. But neither group seemed to have gotten the message.

“Almost 100 per cent of my guests are foreigners, and they drink a little, but [not enough to] cause them to get drunk or crazy,” Tang Kimsa, manager of a riverside restaurant said.

Chaem Pichet, the Kampong Cham provincial deputy military police chief, acknowledged that fully enforcing the ban was difficult.

“There are some drinking in quiet places or hiding from the authorities,” he said, adding that the authorities could not look everywhere.

On Saturday, though, police only had to look at the night market here, which sits directly next to the headquarters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Music boomed from speakers while groups of young men ate dinner and washed their meals down with cans of Angkor.

A 24-year-old cassava farmer, Soeung Sopheak, was sitting with friends. They had not seen each other in a while and wanted to have a good time, he said.

But he insisted he would not get too tipsy – he did not want to forget to vote.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joseph Freeman at joseph.freeman@phnompenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at mom.kunthear@phnompenhpost.com
Reporting from Kampong Cham town

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