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Huge Drop in Optimism Over Country’s Direction, Survey Finds

Garment workers throw objects at riot police during a strike near a factory of Canadia Center, on the Stung Meanchey complex at the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Police wounded several striking Cambodian garment workers Friday when they opened fire to break up a labor protest, witnesses said.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Only 55 percent of Cambodians think the country is headed in the right direction, a significant drop from a year according, a new poll from the US-based International Republican Institute finds.

The figure was a 24 percent drop from the same survey a year ago—prior to July’s marred elections and the political impasse and violent protests that followed. It is also the lowest figure since IRI began its annual survey, in 2006.

The most recent numbers were seen by members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party as a chance to gain more support. Members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, on the other hand, said the survey does not square with the support they still receive.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the figure did not represent “the state of reality in Cambodia,” but he said the ruling party and Prime Minister Hun Sen continue to gain supporters. The government has meanwhile undertaken policies for economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as “deep” democratic reforms, he said.

“If people still support us, it means we’ll move forward like this,” said Chheang Von, a CPP lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee. “But it doesn’t mean we’re bragging.”

Son Chhay, a lawmaker-elect for the Rescue Party, said the new numbers may signal a growing understanding by many Cambodians about the survey’s questions.

The IRI survey found corruption, nepotism and environmental damage as main reasons respondents thought the country was not moving in the right direction. For those who did think it moving the right way, reasons cited were infrastructure improvement, including roads, schools, clinic and pagodas.

Those surveyed saw the CPP as “representing the views of citizens on infrastructure, education, fighting crime and drugs, and protecting the monarchy,” IRI said. “ Respondents trusted the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was created in July 2012, on issues related to freedom, workers’ rights and food prices.”

The Rescue Party was also seen more favorably for protecting the freedom of speech, human rights and workers’ rights, the organization said.

The poll also found strong views on the importance of democratic reforms.

“When asked about democratic reforms, 83 percent of respondents supported the idea that voters should be able to choose their local government village chief, a position that is currently appointed,” the survey found. “Survey respondents pointed to making the judiciary free and independent as well as protecting freedom of speech as important ways to strengthen democracy in their nation.”