Enterprises in Cambodia’s biggest tourism hub have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy to quickly resolve a festering election dispute that they say is threatening business prospects as tensions rise ahead of mass opposition protests next week.
Travel companies in Siem Reap, home of the world-renowned Angkor Wat temple complex that is a mainstay of the country’s key tourism industry, made the plea as King Norodom Sihamoni urged calm and unity ahead of the Sept. 7 protests led by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The CNRP has unveiled widespread ballot irregularities in the July 28 elections and has vowed to proceed with the planned demonstrations in the capital Phnom Penh unless its demand for an independent probe of its complaints is accepted.
With no new government one month after the polls and additional military forces, tanks, and armored personnel carriers deployed in the capital city, tourism businesses are worried that the uncertainty and security concerns will keep visitors at bay.
'Tourism will be affected'
Thuon Sinang, president of the Pacific Cambodia Tourism Association, said he fears mass demonstrations would hurt business, especially if they prompt a government crackdown.
"If the massive demonstration occurs for a short period there might not be a large effect but if the demonstration continues for longer, tourism will be affected,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
He said he was “very concerned” about what would happen if protests were put down with “violent action.”
So far the political deadlock has not yet produced a decline in tourism, according to Tourism Department Director Ngouv Sengkak.
Over the past 7 months, some 1.2 million tourists visited Siem Reap in a 6.6 percent increase over the same period last year, he told RFA.
But tourist agencies are concerned tourism revenue could be affected over the long run.
Ang Kem Eang, president of Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said he hoped the CNRP and CPP parties could put their differences aside and focus on the country’s development without the tourism industry being adversely affected.
"Our country went through many wars, and now this stage should be our development stage," he said.
CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha urged tourism agencies to pressure the government to provide justice to voters if they fear losing tourists over the election dispute.
The CNRP’s mass protest has been scheduled on the eve of an expected Sept. 8 announcement of final election results by the National Election Committee (NEC) that could confirm preliminary findings that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has won in the polls.
King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday made an impassioned call for unity, saying the election dispute should be resolved based on the country’s constitution, the country’s “supreme law that we respect.”
“Lessons from history have shown that when our country splits it leads to tragedy,” he said in a message. “Therefore, I would like to appeal all people to remain calm and maintain the country’s dignity.”
“The resolution of any national issues must be based on the constitution and competent authorities must be allowed to resolve them according to what is defined in the constitution,” he said.
When final election results are announced on Sept. 8, they will “allow the National Assembly and the government to proceed according to the constitution in order to maintain stability,” he said.
The NEC’s preliminary findings announced earlier this month support the CPP’s claims that it won 68 seats in the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, to the CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP, which claims it won at least 63 seats, said election irregularities included the removal of about one million voters from the electoral rolls.
Call for talks
CNRP President Sam Rainsy wrote to his CPP counterpart Chea Sim on Friday to call for a “top senior leaders’ meeting” to discuss the election irregularities, saying any investigations should not be led by the NEC which some groups say is a tool of Hun Sen’s CPP.
“The CNRP doesn’t have any confidence that the NEC can resolve the election irregularities transparently and justly,” he said in the letter.
“Based on the spirit of national reconciliation and national unity in order to provide justice and harmony, I support … talks between the parties’ leaders in order to seek a solution to election irregularities.”
Kem Sokha said the talks the CNRP is seeking would be focused on investigating the polls, not any agreements about the formation of a new government.
“We will only talk about the establishment of an independent committee, not about power-sharing,” he said.
Senior CPP official Cheam Yeap said the two parties should hold talks first between lower-level committee members.
“We must first have members of the committee and secondly we must regulate the role of the committee, we can’t do anything far away from the law,” he said.
The Constitutional Council, Cambodia’s highest court, is investigating the CNRP’s complaints and has the final say on the legitimacy of the preliminary results.
Siem Reap security packages
The investigations revealed Friday that packages with secured ballot information in a third province have been tampered with.