Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Life in Cambodia

Last week elections took place throughout Cambodia for the local commune councils. Not headline breaking news I know especially as the results hardly came as a surprise with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party picking up the lion’s share of the votes cast. Nevertheless to watch the mechanics of a fledgling democracy in action was pretty interesting for me especially given the political problems of the not too distant past. The turnout figures at over 60% were down from the last local elections but certainly in comparison to the UK these figures are impressive. One tends to take for granted our right to participate in democracy but of course here it really is in its infancy.

The United Nations oversaw what were supposed to have been the first free and fair elections ever held in the country in May 1993 and since then there have been a further three general elections. The last one in 2008 saw the People’s Party gain an outright majority for the first time allowing them to govern without the need for coalition partners. The first commune elections were held in 2002 and last week’s exercise in democracy was the third such at this level. Early elections were marred by instances of violence and intimidation but of late this seems to be a thing of the past. Opposition parties regularly call foul but international observers have declared recent ballots to be generally fair. The main problem these days seems to be with voter registration which on paper appears to be an administrative issue. There were instances last week of people attending polling stations only to find their name was not on the register and they could therefore not vote. Cambodia is a fairly transient society with people often working far from home so it is possible to see why there might be problems. The challenge then for the National Election Committee, the body which is responsible for administering the elections, is to address these issues in the future although whether they do so in time for next year’s general election remains to be seen. Postal voting without a postal service would be difficult I would imagine!

Many of our staff at Bambu Hotel were voting for the first time and it was good to see most of them genuinely excited about taking part in their democracy. To ensure that people do not vote twice electors have to dip their index finger in indelible ink which leaves a reminder of their participation in the ballot as the ink stays with them for around a month!

June is probably the quietest month in the tourist season here in Cambodia. It is actually a good time to visit places like Siem Reap and Angkor Wat which are increasingly overrun with tourists in the high season. By June temperatures have fallen since the highs of April and May and the evenings are especially pleasantly cool. True, the rainy season has started and with it a rise in the humidity levels, but rainfall  is generally light and showers seldom last for more than an hour. Farmers have started planting rice and the countryside looks magnificent. Another good reason to visit Cambodia at this time of year of course is that you can drive hard bargains with hotels that are desperate to attract the few customers around!

This quiet period is a good time for us hoteliers to catch up with maintenance and renovations to our buildings and we are no exception at Bambu. The tropical climate can be pretty harsh on building fabric and a certain amount of redecoration and minor repairs are often necessary. We do a lot of this throughout the year but obviously to avoid inconveniencing guests larger projects have to wait until the hotel is less busy. By the end of August we will have been open for two years – a period which for me has flown by. With help from our staff and guests I have highlighted many things which work well and others which do not. I hope we have made the necessary adjustments where required. Certain things have surprised me – for instance the amount of space needed for our laundry facility and the continuing need for more room to store all the behind the scenes “stuff” that a hotel needs.

Lastly there was a maintenance job which, perhaps understandably, I have been putting off for some time – an inspection of Bambu’s five septic tanks. Clearly we don’t want any problems with these and a couple of days ago an investigation was made and I am pleased to say all were found to be in tip top condition!