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Cambodia's political scene at a crossroads with no resolution over recent disputed general elections
Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar Business Forecast Report Q1 2014 - a new country guide report on 2014-03-17 07:01:02
Cambodia´s political scene is at a crossroads with a resolution over the recent disputed general elections nowhere in sight. Both the ruling Cambodia People´s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) facing tough choices, which could determine whether the country reverts back to a one-party state, or whether democracy is strengthened as reforms are undertaken. The business environment will face a period of uncertainty over the direction of the political situation, in addition to risks posed by developments in the country´s ongoing struggle with land rights. Ultimately, though, we believe that the current political impasse and land rights issues will not derail Cambodia´s strong economic progress. We expect areas such as agriculture (and in particular rice production), textiles, and tourism to be the major drivers of economic growth over the coming years, with evidence suggesting the foreign investors are looking to capitalise on Cambodia´s long-term growth potential.

Laos´ economic reforms continue to pay off as the country reaps the benefits from the mining boom and robust demand for hydropower-generated electricity. We do not foresee many changes to the growth drivers that have been powering Laos´ economy in the near term and expect the mining, manufacturing, construction finance and trade sectors to register robust growth in the coming years. We are forecasting real GDP growth of 8.0% and 7.4% in 2013 and 2014, respectively. That said, we highlight that Vientiane´s expansionary fiscal policies have led to a deterioration in the country´s fiscal balance and the government will have to remain cautious in its undertaking of large scale infrastructure projects so as to be able to maintain fiscal sustainability. Additionally, Laos´ tourism sector has exhibited very robust growth in previous years and we expect this boom to maintain course going forward. We expect accommodation facilities to be the main growth area within the tourism industry, and we are starting to see greater foreign interest within the sector. Additionally, we continue to highlight that eco-tourism has the potential to drive further expansion of Laos´ fledgling tourism industry.

Myanmar faces a key test of its nascent reform drive at the beginning of 2014, when suggestions for the amendment of its highly flawed constitution are set to be announced. Of particular interest will be the military (Tatmadaw)´s suggestions, which will be the culmination of a review process undertaken earlier in 2013.

One of the key questions that may be answered is whether or not the military will agree to a smaller presence in the country´s parliament, where it currently holds a mandated 25% of seats.

Additionally, the constitutional review may provide the answer as to whether or not venerable opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to run for president in the upcoming 2015 general election, which would be a major step towards the legitimisation of the elections as a free and fair process. While Myanmar´s economic growth potential remains enormous, the country´s entire development story will likely hinge upon the government´s ability to maintain reform momentum through 2015´s elections and beyond.

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