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Voters Notice Development, and Its Absence

[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 impact of foreign investment on voters.]

Although voters are satisfied with foreign investment development in Cambodia, they are disappointed that the income does not benefit the poor. And as the election approaches, investment that has led to infrastructure could pay off for the ruling party, observers say.

Not all, however, are convinced they benefit.

Under a mango tree, in a poor neighborhood in the middle of Phnom Penh, Phan Na, 32, prepared a prahok dish for her family's lunch. She said she was happy for the overall development of projects like skyscrapers in Phnom Penh, but she was concerned about her own living conditions, as these developments had not reached her.

"The development is not for the poor, but for the powerful government officials and the millionaire businessmen," she said. "The poor Cambodian people have no one to help them. If someone gives the benefit to me, I will vote for them, especially any government who can help the poor Cambodian people."

Investment in the first quarter of this year has fallen compared to last year, but an overall development boom has benefited Cambodia's economic development over the past few years. But many Cambodians do not see the direct benefits.

"I have no hope," Ou Soeun, 55, who lives in a slum area of Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer. " "Poverty controls my daily life."

"I feel very happy for this development, but the result of the development has not benefited me," she said. "I am very disappointed for that. We are poor, and still poor, and have only disappointment, and nothing to do."

Human Rights Party Vice President Keo Remy said Cambodia's economic boom had served powerful officials and millionaires only.

"The Cambodian people right now are focused on the election more and more, to change their living conditions, so the development of the big buildings, or modern, new buildings, is not connected with the people's vote for the ruling party," he said. "The people now think only of living and eating, for enough food, enough clothes, and sending their children to school."

Some officials of the ruling Cambodian People's Party say their party will win support from eligible voters through development and investment.

Puthea Hang, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, agreed with this.

"The voters will focus on the construction of roads, bridges and all kinds of buildings, as well as modernized markets," he said. "All of these can attract voters, but this is a focus on the rich people."

Sim Vibol, a teacher of law at a private Phnom Penh university, disagreed.

"The development of modern buildings and economic development are not very important factors for attracting people to vote for the CPP, but it is the style of how to rule, how to control the country to make progress," he said. "The CPP can have the support from the people in the rural areas where the ruling party constructs roads, schools and bridges, or sometimes gives gifts."