FUNDING for commune election campaigning, scheduled to begin January 18, has become
a contentious issue with the opposition accusing the ruling CPP-Funcinpec coalition
of using the government machinery unfairly to their advantage.
The election monitoring group, Comfrel, has demanded that the National Election Committee
(NEC) makes provision for a financial audit of income and expenses on campaigning
by all political parties in a bid to ensure free and fair elections.
"How can the election be fair when some parties have all the access to money
and others find it difficult even to plan a campaign, and if the funds are splurged
by some on vote-buying activities rather than legal campaigning?" asked Panha
Koul of Comfrel December 20.
Article 10 of the Commune Election Law, based on article 16 of the National Assembly
Law, has assigned the NEC the role of scrutinizing the sources of funds filling the
coffers of political parties and how that money is spent. The NEC is not, however,
legally bound to do so. Nor does the body seem to have either the expertise or the
resources to carry out an independent audit.
Political parties are governed by a law that requires them to maintain clear accounts
specifying their income and expenditure in order to maintain transparency, a condition
that's rarely complied with.
In theory, parties depend on their members and supporters for donations that are
collected and then channeled throughout two weeks of campaigning activities including
printing posters, hiring loudspeakers, organizing political rallies and door-to-door
Comfrel said the Royal Government had committed itself in its official Governance
Action Plan to reform of political party financing during election campaigns.
Article 29 of the law regulating political parties prohibits them from receiving
financial support from NGOs, public institutions or foreign companies, but allows
them to finance their activities through "legal" ways of income generation.
The state may support campaigning but is required to disburse funds equally to all
However, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy said the ruling party favored its cronies
when awarding contracts for procurement of rice, uniforms and even construction projects.
These cronies often inflated their bills returning some of the money as kickbacks
for the party's election fund.
"I will not be surprised if their expenses ran into tens of millions of dollars.
Look how they [the ruling party] have diverted huge funds from the 2001 state budget.
Instead of allocating funds to different ministries responsible for various sectors,
finance ministry has handled all the money," he said while referring to recent
"irregularities" in the budgetary spending, allegedly to raise campaign
SRP's general secretary, Eng Chhay Eang, earlier accused the NEC of spending at least
$60,000 more than was necessary when awarding the contract to print the 72-page booklet
that describes the procedures and regulations governing the commune elections.
While the NEC paid for 72,150 booklets at the rate of $1.27 each, the SRP found a
printer who said he would have charged merely $0.50 for such a large volume since
the cost reduced with larger orders. The SRP suggested that the printer was favored
in a quid pro quo arrangement, adding that the absence of transparent procedures
in printing and designing election materials meant there were always chances for
One such situation open to abuse, he suggested, was that each of the 1,621 communes
will have distinctive ballot papers with different positioning of political parties
in the fray. The position of the party on the ballot paper will be decided by a draw
of lots in each commune.
Dr Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID), however,
said Cambodia's situation was no different from other countries in the region where
ruling parties were always in an advantageous position in organizing elections through
"But Funcinpec and the SRP have been in parliament long enough to have pushed
for an amendment in the election law to ensure an independent audit of political
party accounts," he said. He added that if the government could ensure security
for political candidates and voters, and equal access to the media for all parties,
the prerequisite for a free and fair election would have been met.
For the election the SRP said it would spend around half a million dollars: half
from expatriate Cambodians, and the rest from domestic supporters.
"We haven't had to spend a single penny on opening our party offices. Some supporters
gave a part of their house for use, while others donated rice, coconut and other
goods," Rainsy said.
Funcinpec and CPP-though no official figures were forthcoming from them despite repeated
efforts-plan to supplement donations with regular contributions by their party MPs