May 30 2012
As a visitor, it’s sometimes easy to miss the nuances of public life in a country. You’re less likely to pick up a newspaper or have a chat on current affairs at the supermarket. But you’d need to be really cultivating an ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach not to have noticed that Phnom Penh is in the grip of election fever.
The city’s been experiencing the joys of election campaigning for a few weeks, starting at the particularly delightful time of 5:30 — that’s in the morning — when the roadshow amps are cranked up in the Vietnamese Friendship Park. Turn almost any corner and there’s another set of supporters blocking the road, waving flags and chanting, hanging from vehicles almost overloaded with megaphones and speakers. Being prepared with earplugs, a knowledge of back alleys and a sense of humour means these things can be dealt with pretty easily.
Now, however, a ban on alcohol is threatening a sober weekend ahead and an end to election fun. To ensure things go smoothly for the commune elections, the government has announced a booze embargo over this weekend. From midnight on Friday 2 June to midnight on Sunday 4 June, you’re officially out of luck if you want to buy or drink alcohol in Cambodia.
While nervous expats stockpile cases of Angkor beer to drink in the safety of their apartments, no-one is quite sure how rigorous the prohibition is going to be. During the last general election ‘bar on bars‘, drinking establishments attached to hotels seemed to escape notice, even though there were many more patrons than beds. Away from tourist areas, it’s likely that you will still be able to find your tipple of choice, as long as it’s beer or whiskey. In fact, there are no specified penalties for selling or consuming firewater, although the police will tell you to stop if they catch you at it.
You could always take this opportunity to give your liver a break and do something fun and healthy or indulge yourself with a colonial afternoon tea. If the risk of a weekend without the hard stuff is just too much, in case of emergency your nearest exits are Thailand, Vietnam and Laos …
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