With just 10 days to go until the June 5 commune elections the opposition Candlelight Party and ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) are both accusing each other of abusing the campaign process.
The Candlelight Party says its campaign has come under increasing pressure from the CPP, after a ruling party representative in Kampong Cham province filed a complaint.
The CPP complaint accuses Candlelight Party officials in Kang Meas district of distributing money to their councilor candidates and asks that all candidates from 11 communes in the district who received the money now be struck from the ballot.
The CPP also wants the candidates to pay individual fines and for the party to pay a fine of about $7,000.
But the Candlelight Party says giving funds to its own candidates is not a crime.
“According to the law, offering gifts or money to supporters is illegal but we only gave to our party’s candidates,” said Kung Raiya, head of the Candlelight Party in Kampong Cham province’s Sdao commune, after being summoned by the commune election committee on Thursday over the complaint – which has now been forwarded on to the provincial level.
“There is no law that says that giving money [to the party’s working group] during election campaigns is illegal,” Raiya said, adding that dealing with the complaint was hampering the party’s ability to campaign properly.
“They do this so it does not give us enough time for the election campaign,” he said. “It is unreasonable, and could affect our election campaign process.”
Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC), said the case was still being investigated.
“We need to wait until the investigation is completed to know whether the party offering money within its party affiliation is illegal , ” he said.
But Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said it’s obvious the case in Kampong Cham was not vote-buying because the party was only distributing funds to their own staff.
“It is not about buying voters’ hearts,” he said.
Korn Savang, an election observer with the monitoring group COMFREL, noted there had been some minor irregularities during the campaign. However, he said the case in Kampong Cham could be more serious.
“Offering money or gifts during the campaign is banned, but it’s not only the Candlelight Party doing this but also to the CPP as well,” he said.
“However, we need to see if the money was to buy votes and only the NEC can clarify that,” he said.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), said that CPP’s complaints against the Candlelight Party were not a form of persecution.
“If one party violates the law, the other party has the right to sue,” he said, adding that during the election campaign period the law strictly prohibits political parties from providing material or money to members or supporters.
“The CPP provided materials and money to their supporters, but that was before the election campaign, so it does not matter,” he said.
But the Kampong Cham case is just one of many complaints, some of them seemingly petty, and mostly filed by the CPP against the opposition.
According to the NEC, as of day six of the election campaign, 25 cases of irregularities had been reported in total by both parties. Puthea said that most of these were minor irregularities and had been subsequently addressed.
“Most of the cases related to the violation of election campaign procedures and most of them were filed by the CPP against the Candlelight Party,” he said.
Last week, the Pailin Provincial Department of Water Resources lodged a complaint with the district authorities over a Candlelight Party sign at the mouth of a water canal, which the department said had affected the maintenance of its irrigation system.
Separately, the Ministry of Interior has said the appointment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party politician Son Chhay as the Candlelight Party’s vice president violates the party statute and has asked them to reconsider.
Chhay, however, said the ministry’s request would not affect the party in the commune elections and the party is now processing documents to submit to the ministry to validate his position.
One of the complaints the Candlelight Party has filed itself said the CPP had provided a training course to polling station officials last week. Political parties are not allowed to train polling officials, which is the NEC’s job.
Puthea rejected the allegation saying the NEC had only yesterday begun recruiting the more than 140,000 polling officials needed nationwide.
Seventeen Cambodian political parties began their two-week campaign period on Saturday, in anticipation of the June 5 commune elections.