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In Capital, Unease Over Prospect of Post-Election Violence

A Buddhist monk shouts as people gather to watch a burning military police car near a polling station in Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 28, 2013.
A Buddhist monk shouts as people gather to watch a burning military police car near a polling station in Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 28, 2013.
PHNOM PENH - Security concerns in the wake of Sunday’s elections have kept workers out of factories, children out of school and have led to the stockpiling of food from markets, residents in Phnom Penh reported this week.

The ruling party lost an estimated 22 seats in the National Assembly as a result of Sunday’s polls, while the opposition gained 26, according to CPP officials. But the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party maintains it will not accept the results of an election it says was marred with irregularities.

That tension has kept people indoors and well stocked, with some residents in the capital expecting post-election unrest.

Standing in a small rented room with his clothes already packed, Kin Houryi, 25, who works at a garment factory, said he is preparing to return to his hometown, after working just four days this week.

“My mother is afraid of possible turmoil in the city, so she called me to return home,” he said. “I might come back to work in the next 10 days.”

Touch Vann, 34, who works at the same factory, told VOA Khmer that only about half of the total 200 workers there have returned since the elections. “Many workers in other factories in this area are also absent.”

Security forces have been deployed heavily in the capital since Sunday, blocking main streets and worrying some residents, some of whom could be seen withdrawing money from ATMs and buying food stores. Others have temporarily left the capital.

Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, appealed to workers to return to factories, calling the situation “normal now.”

School administrators report similar unease.

Hean Vichni, a manager for an international kindergarten in Phnom Penh, said some parents have yet to allow their children to return to class.

“Yesterday, about 40 percent of students came to school,” she said on Thursday. “But today it rose to about 90 percent. What I asked them, they said they were concerened about their children’s security, in case there are any protests or violence.”

The unease expressed by workers and students reflect a general feeling in the capital, whose streets have become quieter as residents stay inside.

“Now I’m earning only about $2.50 a day, compared to about $8 before the elections,” said Hi Sear, 64, a motorcycle taxi driver. “I think people don’t want to travel much during this situation.”

Results from Sunday’s polls are still being contested by the Cambodia National Rescue Party. And an increasing number of outside groups are calling on investigations into allegations of widespread irregularities.

Transparency International Cambodia, which deployed monitors for the elections, said Thursday that “doubts and suspicion” have eroded public trust in the elections, which can be allayed with a thorough investigation.

The Cambodian People’s Party has said it won the elections, with 68 of 123 National Assembly seats. But the opposition, which took the remainder, maintains that legitimate elections, free of irregularities, would have put them ahead. The National Election Committee is not expected to release results until after Aug. 10, as it looks into complaints of irregularities.

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told VOA Khmer on Thursday that the CPP losses at the polls were due to a continued drift from impoverished Cambodians, especially since the 2008 elections. In the time since, poor labor conditions and continue land developments and forced evictions have been at the root of many demonstrations, some of them violent.

Residents now appeared worried that more unrest, perhaps larger, could follow. That so far has not happened.

But even as the tension eases, residents like Chhun Sinoun, 45, say they are prepared for potential unrest.

“I just bought a sack of rise and some dried fish, because I have many young children,” she said. “So if there is any problem, we’ll still have something to eat.”