Report Claims Cambodia at Risk of Unrest

A report released Friday by a British think tank places Cambodia within the top five countries at risk for major political unrest in the current global economic climate, an as­sessment that surprised both government officials and political observers.

Cambodia scored eight out of 10 on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s political instability index. In a worldwide ranking, Cambodia landed in a fourth-place tie with Su­dan, whose president is the subject of an International Crim­inal Court arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to the assessment, the only regimes more endangered than Cambodia’s are those of Zim­babwe, Chad and the De­mocratic Republic of Congo. Iraq and Af­ghanistan are both rated as more stable.

In a report accompanying the as­sessment, the EIU defined political instability as “those events or developments that pose a serious extra-parliamentary or extra-institutional threat to governments or the existing political order.” It goes on to say that instability “will almost invariably be accompanied by some violence as well as political disorder.”

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said by telephone Sunday that the ruling party’s policy was to disregard such assessments.

“We ignore any predictions from these organizations,” he said. “Some organizations…always provide negative evaluations of us.”

However, he said that he was disappointed with the EIU’s appraisal, adding that, “This suffering and disappointment will be our motivation to improve our population’s livelihood, prevent starvation and avoid economic disaster.”

The EIU’s report cites the growing economic crisis as a major contributor to instability in at-risk countries. “There is a suspicion that things are even worse than officials are saying, and this may fuel un­rest,” the report said, but did not provide any details of its assessment of Cambodia beyond the overall score.

In recent weeks, there has been little good news about Cambodia’s economy. The International Mone­tary Fund now predicts that Cam­bodia will fall into recession in 2009, and the Cambodia Institute of De­velopment recently estimated that more than 1 million Cambodians would be affected by unemployment or a drop in income in 2009.

Even in light of those numbers, political observer Chea Vannath said by telephone Sunday she was “very surprised” by Cambodia’s ranking: “Of course, we have people that do not have enough to feed themselves, but compared with Zimbabwe, it’s way different.”

She said the EIU had not considered all factors in its assessment. “The other side of the coin is the culture, the historical background. All Cambodians want to avoid conflict, because we don’t want to see another killing fields.”

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections, agreed that the EIU’s assessment was shocking. “I think we cannot compare with countries like Iraq and Sudan in terms of security and stability,” he said Sunday.

But he added that if unemployment continues to rise and the gap between rich and poor grows, the political establishment could be in trouble. “[Unemployed workers] will make demands and ask the government to respond…. That’s the threat to political power,” he said.

In contrast, Yim Sovann, an SRP lawmaker, said Sunday that the as­sessment was “very accurate,” add­ing that, “If the government does not change, I think it will tumble.”

Despite agreeing with the EIU’s report, Yim Sovann predicted that a new government would be put in place by peaceful, democratic means. “I think that the people will vote for change,” he said. “I think that there will be change in the next election.”

The EIU used 15 indicators to predict political instability: income inequality, date of independence, corruption, ethnic fragmentation, trust in public institutions, discrimination against minorities, history of instability, risk of labor unrest, inf­ant mortality rate, geographical pos­ition, regime type, factionalism, GDP growth, unemployment rate and per capita income.

No one from the EIU could be reached for comment Sunday.

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