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A protest economy emerges

Demonstrators flood Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a CNRP political rally last Saturday
Demonstrators flood Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a CNRP political rally last Saturday. SRENG MENG SRUN

A protest economy emerges

By 10am, Siv Lin, the owner of a mobile food stall facing Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, had prepared all the rice, pork, eggs and vegetables needed to serve yesterday’s regular lunch crowd.

It was a normal day. But on September 7, when thousands of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters amassed once again at Freedom Park to dispute July’s election, the lunch queue was a little longer.

“My revenue doubled last Saturday,” the 65-year-old said. “I think it will be the same for many vendors at the upcoming rally,” she added, referring to the CNRP’s planned three-day event starting September 15.

“I plan to increase stocks. I will import more goods and add more supply parallel to the increase of demand for food on that day.”

Lin wasn’t the only one benefiting from the larger turnout. Owners of street vendors and small cafes in the area said yesterday that a cottage demonstration economy had emerged.

Almost all of the vendors brushed safety concerns aside. While some city residents and garment workers have avoided Phnom Penh in the election aftermath and embassies have warned foreigners to stay away, the entrepreneurial are seeing an opportunity.

“Normally, I operate my restaurant between 6am and 2pm. But on the demonstration day last weekend, I prolonged the time until late evening when all people left the park,” said 42-year-old restaurant owner Sothea, who did not want to give his full name. “On average, I get about 600,000 riel ($150) per day, but it increased to more than 1,000,000 riel on the demonstration day last weekend.”

Koe Young Go, whose mother sells beverages mostly to workers at nearby building sites, said the thousands of new customers were a boon.

“There were many people here. I and my relatives were quite busy helping my mum to sell the drinks,” he said.

Most of the fresh profits poured into the modest food and beverage establishments around the park. But restaurants with higher prices and businesses that don’t sell food aren’t as happy.

Chan Raksmey, a 29-year-old owner of a tire business on the south side of the park, closed his shop for the first half of last Saturday, fearing a lack of security. He also said his clients needed to park their cars in front of the shop, but with so many protesters, there wasn’t enough space.

Around the corner, laundry shop owner So Sochea tried to circumvent safety concerns by setting up a metal fence around the entry area of his business. During the last turnout, he went from an average of 50 customers per day to only 10.

Long Dimanche, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipality, told the Post yesterday that the city was not planning on ordering shops to close or suggesting that they suspend operations.

“Everything is progressing normally. It is their freedom of choice if they want to open or close their shop,” he said.

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