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Inflation Emerges as Campaign Issue

[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 second in a two-part series examining inflation.]

The soaring price of food and other essentials has by now affected most Cambodians, especially those living under a dollar a day. The country’s inflation has people vexed, making them reluctant to vote because the cost of travel is too high.

But fighting inflation has emerged as one of the first real platforms carried by political parties. Elections past have seen such issues as border demarcation or illegal immigration—vague problems that are emotional touchstones with the populace.

Political parties vying for parliamentary seats in July’s general polls see this as a time to act and are making inflation a main point of attack, with the electoral campaign period set for June 26 to July 26.

“The soaring food price is one of my main political platforms,” said Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay. “With this strategy, I believe we will receive a lot of support.”

To fight inflation, he said, Funcinpec will create a true free market to open competition between companies to import fuel at lower costs.

Keo Remy, vice president of the Human Rights Party, called the curbing of inflation his party’s top priority.

“We will control riel currency, reduce taxes on essential imported products and encourage farmers to produce domestic products,” he said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his party’s strategy would mainly focus on fighting corruption, to prevent food prices from climbing.

Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman and member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the rising cost of food and other commodities was a product of the free market, and not something the government can reduce.

The CPP hopes to promote salary increases for workers and civil servants as a way to temper the impact of inflation, he said.

Food prices have increased dramatically in recent months, jumping 24 percent last month. Now, many people are looking to political parties for answers.

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, a monitoring group, said political parties must remember the promises they make on the campaign trail, and keep them once they’ve won.