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Busy Tourism Sector Could Hamper Voters

[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 the tourism boom.]

Cambodia’s tourism sector is running at full steam, and while that may be beneficial for those it employs, it could create problems for people who are too busy in July to vote.

“I believe that most people who are drivers, guides and small vendors around the temples will not go to vote because they think about their stomachs,” said Pat Sambo, president of the Association of Tourist Services.

The tourism industry is bringing in millions of dollars in earnings each year, but for the 250,000 people the sector employs, there is not enough money going around for days off.

“If I have client on that day, I will not go to vote,” said Sao Samy, a taxi driver in Siem Reap.

Such reluctance to vote is worrying for election observers, who saw a big drop in the numbers of voters at the polls in last year’s commune elections. About 2.5 million registered voters did not show.

Still, not everyone is convinced tourism workers will skip Election Day.

Koy Sang, director of the Ministry of Tourism’s Siem Reap department, said people were aware of the importance of general elections, and “most of them will go to the ballot station.”

His optimism was echoed by election and rights officials, perhaps even because the government could be doing more to improve the sector.

The vast majority of visitors come for Angkor Wat and sometimes skip even Phnom Penh. But critics argue the whole country can be developed, spreading tourist wealth and alleviating poverty.

“We will include this in our political platform,” said Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Ieng. “It is very important, after agriculture.”