Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the Economist Intelligence Unit on Monday for ranking Cambodia among the top five countries in the world at risk of political unrest caused by the global economic crisis.
Hun Sen denounced the EIU’s report at a conference in Phnom Penh, saying the British think tank, a branch of the respected Economist magazine, has a hidden political agenda against his government.
“They have their political goals, it is very obvious. We shouldn’t pay much attention to it,” Hun Sen said at the Health Ministry’s annual conference.
The EIU’s index gave Cambodia a rating of 8 out of 10 on a scale designed to predict major social and political upheaval—the fourth-highest score worldwide. Cambodia’s score was equal to that of Sudan, and only Zimbabwe, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo fared worse.
“They have mentioned us while we are politically stable,” Hun Sen added. “They daren’t mention some countries…. In our regional neighborhood, Sri Lanka is still waging war, but the report didn’t mention it; they only mentioned Cambodia,” he said.
Sri Lanka, which has been engaged in a civil war since 1983, scored a 7.3 on the instability index, ranking it at number 31—far higher than Cambodia.
The EIU report cited the global economic crisis as a major factor in political instability around the world, but Hun Sen said Cambodia would weather the storm.
“We have the agricultural sector,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that if we lose one corner, our economy will decline. This is not [the situation in Cambodia]—at least we have enough rice to eat.”
Nick Owen, an Asia editor for the EIU, denied Monday that his organization was unfairly targeting Cambodia.
“It’s not like we have any sort of vendetta against Cambodia or Hun Sen,” he said by telephone from London. “Cambodia, we do believe, is at a heightened risk of social unrest over the next year and a half.”
Owen said that underlying social inequalities and government corruption in Cambodia could be revealed as the country suffers from growing unemployment and drops in foreign investment.
“Whichever way you look at it, Cambodia is headed for a rough couple of years,” he said.
In its March report on Cambodia, the EIU lowered its economic forecast for the country from 1-percent GDP growth in 2009 to minus 3 percent. “We’ve been revising forecasts down, just because the US forecast’s been going down,” Owen said, explaining that Cambodia’s reliance on the US as a market for garment exports was a big factor in that downgrade.
He added that, although it may be surprising to see Cambodia grouped with troubled African countries in the EIU report, political instability could manifest differently in different regions.
“[The index] is not meant to gauge severity. When you think of social unrest in Cambodia, we’d be talking about very different things,” Owen said. While some countries might suffer violent coups, others could just see widespread demonstrations and protests, he said.
SRP lawmaker and party spokesman Yim Sovann reiterated his support for the EIU’s dire assessment Monday.
“This report shows Cambodia’s reality: There is unemployment, farmers who owe debts to the bank, civil servants who haven’t been paid enough and land protests. The government should acknowledge the truth and try to find solutions,” he said.