Kim Try almost went broke in the aftermath of the July 1997 factional fighting. He had a business selling motorcycles, and in the looting that followed the tanks and soldiers, Kim Try lost every one of his 400 motorcycles.
A year later, as the 1998 national election approached, Kim Try and other shop owners took no chances. Rather than risk having to again watch helplessly as looters rode away with their merchandise, shop owners in Phnom Penh’s Toek La’ak III commune spent several days moving motorcycles into their homes, where they could be locked away safely.
No such precaution was necessary for Sunday’s commune council elections, Kim Try said.
One indicator of the country’s current political stability was the certainty of small business owners like Kim Try that Sunday’s election would pass quietly.
“We believe the government of Samdech Hun Sen is able to control security for the people,” he said. “As businessmen, we need this kind of peace so that we can make money without fear.”
Other local businessmen said they hoped next year’s national elections would be just as uneventful.
But many were quick to complain about slow consumer demand, due in part to the continued poverty of most Cambodians and the crackdown on motorcycle smuggling into Vietnam.
One man said he did not vote Sunday because he does not believe the new commune council can do anything to substantially change the way he lives his life and runs his business. No matter the election results, he believes the CPP will continue to retain its influence throughout Cambodia.
But he is thankful for the lack of post-election turmoil in Phnom Penh.
Months of demonstrations led by Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party followed the 1998 elections, some of which turned into violent confrontations with police.
Election officials and observers expressed some worry that similar demonstrations would follow Sunday’s voting.
Despite some complaints from Funcinpec officials about voting irregularities in some provinces, there have so far been no public protests.
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said he was disappointed that not every political party received fair and equal treatment from the National Election Committee, or equal access on television and radio stations.
But he said he is somewhat satisfied that the election was conducted in a peaceful manner.
“It was a low-profile election. It was not so noisy because we did not have the national leaders directly competing with each other,” he said.
Kim Try agreed. In a parliamentary election, people will have stronger feelings, he said.
That worries people like Mom Sokhan, a 32-year-old motorcycle taxi driver.
“Cambodians want the next election to be just as peaceful. We don’t want to have another situation where we have to worry,” he said.