Prime Minister Hun Sen offered a major concession to a key constituency on Monday: providing market vendors the indefinite use of their existing stalls, regardless of the terms of contracts they might have signed.
In a Facebook post on Monday evening, Mr. Hun Sen said that a directive he signed earlier in the day would alleviate the need for his future intervention on the behalf of vendors, who had expressed fear about losing their small businesses to rising rents.
“A while ago, I went to the provinces. I always visit people’s markets,” he wrote. “The market vendors of all types have the same problem with contracts for continued ownership, use and enjoyment” of stalls.
Through Monday’s executive order, vendors will be granted “continued use from generation to generation” without having to negotiate new contracts or request government intervention, he said.
The three-page directive details four types of markets and the new terms that would govern them once current contracts end.
Vendors at markets owned by the government and built on state land, as well as those of the same origin but with private companies contracted to act as fee collectors, are guaranteed continued use of their stalls without the need for new contracts.
A third group includes markets built and maintained on state land by private companies that incur rental fees and taxes. When contracts between the government and these companies end, the government will take over the markets, continuing vendors’ rights to their businesses.
Privately owned and operated markets must continue to host vendors after their current contracts end, or transfer the markets to the government. At such markets, vendors are allowed to transfer occupancy to other vendors, but cannot claim ownership.
Foreshadowing the directive, Mr. Hun Sen took action to assuage vendors’ fears during recent visits to Kompong Chhnang and Preah Sihanouk provinces, where he met with vendors and promised to extend their holdings, regardless of contract terms.
At Kompong Chhnang’s Leu market, which falls into the third category, vendor Yim Mony welcomed news of the directive, as her contract had been set to expire in 2025.
“I feel very confident that my stalls will not be seized after the contract expires and I will not need to pay more money for a contract renewal with the private company that built the market,” she said on Tuesday.
Srey Chinda, who sells cosmetics at Phnom Penh’s O’Russei market, also said the news came as a relief. “The new directive makes me feel so calm, because I am able to do business forever,” she said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, known for his marketside engagement with locals, also welcomed the edict.
“Without the opposition supporting their cause in the first place, vendors would not have obtained anything from the government,” he said. “This shows the importance of a vibrant opposition and of political competition in a democratic way.”
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)