Cambodia's Minister of Commerce and long-time ruling party stalwart Cham Prasidh said yesterday that post-election demonstrations could prevent growth and even result in small-scale looting.
“If they want to destroy the economy, they have to protest more and more in order to destroy,” he said.
His comments came two days after opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy vowed to lead his supporters into the streets if preliminary election results do not reflect a win for the CNRP. He also threatened to boycott the National Assembly if the results, which gave the CPP 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55, are not credibly investigated.
Speaking at a conference in Phnom Penh, Prasidh said the Cambodian economy was expected to grow at a rate of 7.6 per cent in 2013 on the condition that “there is no turmoil post-election”.
In another apparent reference to the opposition, he said rallies aimed at making political points could get out of hand and hurt small-business owners.
“Leaders of protesters never think about the breakout [participants] in protests who could go to rob in shops,” he said. “Our principle and the government’s plea is stability, and we appeal for a peaceful solution.”
Prasidh, who has served for years in the ministry, was repeating a somewhat familiar refrain.
In the lead-up to the election, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that banks could go under and development projects halted should the CNRP win at the polls. In campaign stickers, the CPP showed photos of infrastructure it had built with loans, and has touted itself as the party that lifted Cambodia up from the misery of the Khmer Rouge era into the epoch of development and opportunity.
But while observers wrote off the comments as scare tactics, Prasidh’s statements were not without validity.
Protests occurring in some areas of Phnom Penh on the July 28 poll sparked rumours of unrest and a military crackdown that spread into the provinces, keeping some of Phnom Penh’s garment workers who went home to vote away from the factory.
According to Prasidh, only around 80 per cent of the garment workers have returned to the factories, while around 20 per cent remain at home, scared of a volatile city.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that most of the workers have returned to the factories and that the number of workers still missing was “not significant”.
However, he said there were rumours that workers might leave again once they receive their pay cheques. If true, that could affect production in Cambodia’s biggest industry.
Cambodia’s growth and investment environment has been predicated on its stability, and those in the business community have expressed concern with the current stalemate.
Takeshi Fukui, chief representative of one of the largest Japanese banks, Mizuho, which has a representative office in Phnom Penh, said he hopes that the environment of uncertainty following the poll will “soon be solved properly”.
“The top two attractive points of Cambodia from the manufacturer aspects are reasonable wage-level for production and political stability,” Takeshi said. “Once the situation changes, the stance of overseas investors may change accordingly."
Regarding foreign direct investment, Prasidh said yesterday that it grew by 70 per cent in Cambodia in 2012, reaching $1.5 billion.
Cambodia National Rescue Party whip Son Chhay said that stability is up to the ruling party, not the opposition.
“Turmoil or not turmoil depends on the behaviour of the CPP.... It’s not to do with the election.”