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NGOs call for equal campaign spending

A consortium of election NGOs had banded together in a bid to push through a Campaign Finance Law that would put a ceiling on political party campaign spending ahead of next year’s national elections, representatives said yesterday.

The NGO Working Group on Political Finance has embarked on a campaign trail of its own, launching a Facebook group and a public forum program to try to raise awareness and demand for campaign finance governance.

“We are drafting proposals to have proper funding to support our work and will go out to all the provinces for public forums in October,” Pean Tonlork, director of Democratic and Human Rights Organisation in Action, said yesterday.

The working group wanted to educate Cambodians on the issue so that a call for the law came from the people it will protect, Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said.

Such a law was critical to ensure “fair” elections, he said.

“So far, there has been no attention to this issue from the government, maybe because at the time certain political parties are in power they feel it is not necessary to disclose their party finances. They control the government and they have their own mandate,” Panha said.

“They don’t focus on the ‘fair’ election, only on the ‘free’ election, because there has been so much violence in the past.”

Having compulsory disclosure and publicly available information about political party and campaign finances is also very relevant to combating corruption, Panha said, pointing out that Comfrel was only using rough estimates in its cataloguing of party expenditures during the recent commune elections.

“It is clear that the poor parties spend very little and the bigger parties have all the money, so if there is a ceiling of election campaign finance, this makes some fairness between all the parties,” Panha said.

“Civil society and political parties, except the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] agree that we should work on the law,” Panha said. “Even if we had a draft that went through the National Assembly, it maybe will not be easy, because the government and the CPP are not separate. Even though the National Assembly is the most powerful government institution, the CPP controls it.”

National Election Committee secretary-general Tep Nytha could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he had previously chaired a workshop on political finance law hosted by some of the same NGOs, and generally regarded the law as a welcome development.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen also wants to have this law,” Yeap said yesterday. “But we can’t have absolute equality, because the CPP has more than 5.57 million members and some parties have less than one million members, so we can’t have the same budget for the campaign.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com
Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com

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