Anxiety Over Politics Paralyzes Silk Trade

Fears of political instability have contributed to slumping businesses and general economic unease, merchants and villagers have said.

One of the areas where anxieties have hit hardest is the silk-weaving industry, which depends on buyers’ and sellers’ willingness to travel at a time when omnipre­sent soldiers stir up ugly memories of Cambodia’s years of war and turmoil.

In Khsach Kandal district, Kan­dal province, a traditional silk-weaving center, the industry has suffered under signs of instability. Villagers see armed police on corners and hear about soldiers on the move around the country. That a new government has not formed only feeds the confusion.

The weavers depend on being able to sell their kramas and oth­er silk goods in Phnom Penh or to middlemen willing to visit them. But now both weavers and their buyers are afraid to travel.

During the election campaign, said Chan Mealea, 35, a silk weav­er in Koh Okhatey commune, the situation was bad, and it has not improved. “Police with guns traveling around Phnom Penh do not make people feel secure,” she said Tuesday.

She complained that the price for pharmoungs had dropped from $28 to $20 per set. Even worse, she said, nervous custo­mers are buying pharmoungs of silk blended with yarn at $9.

Rin Saream, 28, another pharmoung weaver, had similar fears. “I was happy to vote for a candidate, but now I’m afraid of a delay selecting the new prime minister.”

Clients have told her that prices will rise again once the government crisis has been resolved. But until then, she said, “I’m hope­less and disappointed.”

The feeling of insecurity has also affected business for clothing merchants in the capital.

A shoe vendor at Phsar Olym­pic who asked not to be named said Wednesday there is substantially less foot traffic in the market since the election. She said her sales have dropped to about five per day from about 20. A few months ago she could sell up to 50 pairs per day, she said. Her main customers are garment workers and provincial middlemen who buy in bulk.

During the economic lull she has declined to order new shoes from Thailand. “Everyone is worried about security if a demonstration takes place after the final election results,” she said.

A villager in Koh Okha Tey com­mune in Khsach Kandal who identified himself only as Porn, said government actions have only increased fears. Particularly disturbing, he said, were Funcin­pec and the Sam Rainsy Party rejecting the election results and a potential Funcinpec plan to quit the government.

“When are they going to get a new government?” Porn asked. “Why don’t they talk together?”

Leang Sreu, chief of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections in Stung Treng province, said this week he saw armed soldiers wearing camouflage 30 km from Stung Treng town.

“This is the first time I’ve seen soldiers like this in a couple of years,” he said. “People are afraid of them. They feel strange to see sol­­diers along this quiet road when they go to market or traveling.”

Khieu Sopheak, the CPP spokes­man for the Ministry of Interior, said Wednesday police would travel around Phnom Penh until the new government is created. He anticipated it would be earlier than in 1998 when a new government wasn’t created until Nov 30—more than four months after the election.

“This time there is less violence and more equal access to media,” he said. “All who saw it claim the election was well done.”

He declined to predict whether there would be large demonstrations in Phnom Penh.

“It depends on the opposition party leader,” he said.

 

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