Cham Prasidh Says Protests May Ruin Economy

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh on Thursday warned that any post-election demonstrations in the coming weeks could potentially cause mass looting and lead to social disorder that could destabilize Cambodia’s economic growth.

Mr. Prasidh’s statement, delivered at the third International Machinery Industry Fair held at the Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Center in Phnom Penh, was markedly different in tone from a speech he gave before the election in June, in which he assured international investors that they should put their faith in the country’s economy as the ruling CPP was guaranteed a victory.

Although the CPP was declared the winner following the July 28 vote, the opposition CNRP is disputing the results, alleging widespread fraud and saying it actually won enough votes to form a majority in the National Assembly. The opposition has also said mass protests in the political impasse will only be called as a last resort.

“If they want to destroy the economy, they will have to do many demonstrations,” Mr. Prasidh said Thursday, without specifying who he was referring to. “We can’t predict what will happen if the demonstrations do go ahead.”

“When the demonstrations break out, people will go to rob shops, and the people will be really afraid, do they want this?” he added, noting that the government aimed at tackling the demonstrations peacefully.

Mr. Prasidh also said that a post-election climate of fear was stopping many people from returning to work, which also had the potential to hinder the economy, although he added that exports had not yet been affected by absenteeism.

“Although the political situation remains stable at the moment and 80 percent of workers have returned to their jobs, about 20 percent remain too fearful to go back to work,” he said, before calling on farmers and factory workers to return to their jobs while politicians worked to solve issues stemming from the contested election result.

“You all have to understand that we are Khmer and this election was Khmer, so the solution must be found by Khmers and Khmers alone,” he said.

“The preliminary result showed already that the Cambodian Peo­ple’s Party won 68 seats [to the CNRP’s 55]. So if we know the result clearly already, why do they need to protest?” he added.

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