This week marked the official kickoff of campaigning for the June 4 commune elections, with Cambodians taking to the streets to show support for their favourite party decked out in T-shirts, hats and stickers emblazoned with party logos.
Elections are always good business for embroidery and print shops that supply party apparel and merchandise, and many of the shops in the capital have hired extra staff or extended hours to fill orders.
Bo Serei, the owner of Day Ek Silkscreen Printing and Embroidery on Norodom Boulevard in the capital, said her staff have been working overtime since April to fill orders for the parties and their supporters.
“I’ve been running my printing business for almost 20 years and the election campaign season is by far the busiest and most profitable,” she said. “Orders are 80 percent higher than on a normal business day.”
Serei’s business claims no political affiliation. One day her warehouse and 100-square-metre workshop can be filled with CPP apparel and merchandise, the next her staff can be putting together an order for the CNRP.
But so far this season the bulk of her business has come from the ruling CPP, which has ordered about 100,000 T-shirts, compared to 1,000 for the CNRP. Both of the major parties have ordered thousands of hats, stickers, flags and banners.
Across the country, embroidery and printing shops like Day Ek are experiencing a surge in business. Owners say campaign budgets appear to be up this election season, with Serei estimating that her shop has received 20 percent more orders than during the last commune election campaign in 2013.
At Penh Chet Printing on T-Shirt Company in the capital’s BKK3 neighbourhood, not a single CPP-branded T-shirt is to be found. Instead, the workshop is filled with shirts and flags branded with the logo of the Grassroots Democracy Party, a party founded in 2015 by slain political activist Kem Ley.
Owner Por Setha insisted the decision to print the party’s campaign merchandise was purely commercial. The party ordered 5,000 T-shirts and 2,000 flags for its campaign, which has kept his staff working around the clock. He reckons if he can complete the order, he will clear up to $5,000 in profit.
“It’s not only me making extra profit in the election season, all businesses that produce materials for political campaigns are profiting,” Setha said. But there are risks, he said.
“There is always the risk that a poor political party cannot afford to pay for all the T-shirts they ordered,” he explained, and that one political party still owes him $5,000 for an order placed during the 2013 commune elections.
Mey Kalyan, senior adviser to the Supreme National Economic Council, said the election campaign season was always a profitable period for certain types of businesses, but not the economy as a whole.
“The political campaign season always results in better operations for businesses linked to the campaign,” he said. “However, it also always results in a slowdown in domestic business because everyone is concentrating on the political campaigns and waiting to see the results before moving ahead.”
That includes foreign investors, he said, adding that a slowdown in FDI during this year’s commune elections and next year’s national election would temporarily put development on hold.