A majority of Cambodians believe their country is moving in the right direction due to infrastructure provided by the government, according to a new public opinion survey released by the Washington-based International Republican Institute.
The poll, which was released Wednesday and funded by the US Agency for International Development, sampled 2,000 men and women from 24 provinces and was conducted by the Center for Advanced Studies, an independent research institution in Phnom Penh, from Dec 20 to Jan 20, IRI said in a statement.
According to select poll findings released by IRI, 71 percent of those surveyed responded that Cambodia was moving in the right direction, and 78 percent of that group said they felt this way because of new infrastructure.
Asked who was responsible for new infrastructure in their area, 35 percent attributed the construction of roads and bridges to the local government, and 31 percent attributed school-building to Prime Minister Hun Sen, IRI said. Twenty-five percent of people attributed roads and bridges to the national government, and 22 percent of people also credited the national government for their new schools.
Of the 29 percent who said Cambodia was not moving in the right direction, 45 percent cited corruption as the reason, while about 21 percent cited low wages, poverty and gas prices.
Eighty-two percent of people surveyed said they were confident in the national government, while 73 percent were confident in their commune governments.
The optimistic mood of the respondents stood in marked contrast to a 2004 IRI poll, in which 73 percent of those surveyed thought the country was doing “not so well” and 28 percent thought they would be worse off five years in the future.
The IRI has strong ties to the US Republican Party. Its board of directors is chaired by US Republican Senator John McCain and includes the US’ former presidential envoy to Iraq L Paul Bremer, III.
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said that despite the poll’s results, the Cambodian public is still concerned about issues such as the low quality of health care and the high price of gasoline.
“People might be comparing [Cambodia] to what it used to be in the 1980s…. In terms of physical aspects, it’s going in the right direction, but if you look at the quality of life, it’s not as rosy,” she said, citing sub-par living conditions and restrictions on freedom of expression.
“The government has been able to sell its infrastructure using huge propaganda…you hear nothing [in the state controlled media] about poor people, human trafficking and maternal mortality,” she added.
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said the public has been misled into believing that the ruling party and individuals within it were solely responsible for building schools and other infrastructure.
Senior officials often put their names on new public buildings donated as aid to Cambodia, he noted.
“You need to explain to people that they were built by the donor countries and the national government,” and are not simply acts of charity by individual politicians, he said.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said he believed the poll findings were accurate.
“The 29 percent of critics were part of the political opposition,” he said. “It is normal… No government can get 100 percent support.”
Heng Samrin denied that the CPP or Hun Sen took credit for infrastructure funded by foreign donors, and said individuals had asked for Hun Sen’s name to be placed on schools built with charitable donations they have raised themselves.
IRI Resident Country Director John Willis declined to comment on the findings.
Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie said she was not surprised by the reported public optimism and support for the government, particularly given the infrastructural improvements in small and rural communities.
“I hope this nascent optimism will create a virtuous cycle,” she said. “People are optimistic, and therefore will plan more, and take more of a risk.”
(Additional Reporting by Pin Sisovann)