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Inflation Could Affect Voter Turnout, Experts Worry

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining inflation.]

As the cost of goods across the country continues to rise, election experts worry that voters will be less likely to make a trip to the polls in July, while voters themselves say they are so worried about the cost of living they can’t focus on the elections.

Sok Vannak, who left her hometown in Svay Reing province to work at a garment factory more than 10 years ago, said her $50 dollar monthly salary won’t allow her to go vote back home. This is because of high inflation, especially an increas in traveling costs.

“Now you have to spend 30,000 riel for one-way travel, but before only 6,000 riel,” she said, joined by a group of workers and university students near a wooden house in the capital. “This high increase means I will not go to vote because I have no money for traveling.”

Voting is the last thing on the minds of many Cambodians, especially the poor, who have daily concerns and are feeling the bite of rising costs.

“How can we think about the election if we are so poor?” asked Ty Sokhak, a resident in Battambang province, raising her voice. “At the moment eating is more important.”

Competing parties in July’s elections recognize the difficulty in getting people to vote when they are worried about daily living, experts said. The parties also have to contend with people’s skeptical attitudes toward politicians.

Ly Sothea Rayuth, senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute, said inflation not only made Cambodians uncaring about the election but also could prevent many from leaving their jobs in the capital on Election Day.

“In a country facing high inflation, it not only affects people’s livings, but it also affects the election process,” he said.

Ly Sothea Rayuth warned that a worst-case scenario could see a reduced number of voters, especially if the government can’t find a way to reduce the costs of living or travel.

Government spokesman Kheiu Kanharith said inflation was a product of the free market, and the government was unable to stop it.

More than 8 million people are registered to vote this year, but the number of people coming to the polls has decreased in recent elections.

The National Election Committee counted 90 percent of voters casting ballots in 1993, but only 68 percent voting in last year’s commune elections.

Koul Panha, director of the independent Committee for Free and Fair Elections, urged people to overcome the costs of travel and vote.

A vote was a way of standing up and speaking to a problem, he said.