Thirty-six percent of Cambodians feel that border demarcation is the most important issue impacting Cambodia, according to a nationwide poll conducted by the International Republican Institute last year.
President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Virak, said that the government has learned it can benefit politically from border issues.
“In the past, the government has never mentioned border issues,” he said.
“After 2008, border issues have become a major issue with Thailand because of the Preah Vihear conflict.
“Even before 2008, a lot of border issues were raised by the opposition [Sam Rainsy] Party”.
IRI country director John Willis said that border demarcation polled highly as an issue in previous IRI surveys.
A 2008 IRI survey showed that, when asked about the three most important issues impacting on the country, the percentage of Cambodians who cited border issues and demarcation jumped from 5 percent to 59 percent between August 2007 and November 2008.
Ou Virak, however, said that while people care about border demarcation, they were unlikely to change their vote because of border issues. “It would be interesting to see whether the same people would be likely to vote because of that issue,” he said.
“My bet is no. The majority will vote on economic issues and things that affect them more directly like healthcare and employment”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that he had not read the IRI poll, but that border demarcation is an important issue for Cambodians.
“We have a number of intrusions by the Thai people, so people pay attention,” he said.
“They want to protect their homeland. And the media reports on it a lot.”
Representatives from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party could not be reached for comment.
The IRI poll, which attempts to gauge Cambodian public opinion, surveyed 2,000 Cambodians from across the country over July and August last year.
According to the poll, 76 percent of people believe the country is heading in the right direction – down from 79 percent in 2009 and a peak of 82 percent in 2008 – with a majority citing an increase in roads, schools and health clinics.
The poll also showed that 23 percent of people believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, with a majority citing corruption.