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Cries of foul over gifts

Environmental officers and commune officials distribute rice to more than 400 villagers in Ratanakkiri
Environmental officers and commune officials distribute rice to more than 400 villagers in Ratanakkiri on Friday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Cries of foul over gifts

Election committee officials in Ratanakkiri are investigating claims that commune authorities and a local development company illegally handed out campaign season gifts to local villagers.

Cambodia National Rescue Party candidate Rin Kanha said he had demanded that the Serei Mongkol commune election committee investigate gifts of rice, salt and sugar that commune authorities and the Vietnamese agro-concessionaire Hoang Anh Lumphat distributed to 447 families on Friday.

“Commune authorities wore hats with a CPP logo to get support for votes,” Kanha said.

Provincial election committee chief Pen Chhundy said he had received the complaint from the commune election committee and would investigate.

He added that the company regularly gave the villagers gifts and had planned to distribute the food before the campaign season began, but the villagers had been busy.

Chuon Phinnara, provincial secretary for the Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said Comfrel and rights group Adhoc had found that the 447 families from three villages each had received 50 kilograms of rice, two kilograms of salt and two kilograms of sugar.

“Those gifts were sponsored by the company, but commune councillors, who were wearing the CPP’s logo on their hats, distributed them,” he said. By associating the gifts with the CPP during the campaign season, the party had violated the National Election Law, he said.

If found guilty of vote buying, a political party could be removed from the election list for five years and be fined five to 10 million riel ($1,200 to $2,400), he added.

Villager Laiy Sun, 55, said that the village chief from the CPP party had given her gifts but had not told her how to vote. Village chief Ki Thy said he was not aware that giving gifts during election season was illegal.
He added that local authorities had just observed the gifts’ distribution, and only one had worn a CPP hat.

Kem Ley, a political analyst, said that the authorities’ participation in the event was nevertheless illegal during campaign season.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JUSTINE DRENNAN

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