THE campaign for the upcoming provincial, municipal and district council elections is set to kick off today, amid opposition claims the ruling Cambodian People's Party is engaging in vote-buying as a means of swaying poll results.
Members of the new councils will be selected by the country's 11,353 commune councillors at the May 17 election, following a May 1-15 campaign period.
The Sam Rainsy Party came forward Wednesday with a recorded telephone conversation it claims is definitive evidence of bribery - illegal under the Kingdom's Election Law.
In the March 16 taped phone conversation, available on the party's website, Lay Channareth, a former CPP councillor in Preah Sihanouk's Lek Boun commune, can be heard offering current SRP councillor Seng Sophorn a cash bribe to vote for ruling party candidates.
"[The CPP] would like you to support us.... For this support, they will give you US$700 or $800," Lay Channareth told Seng Sophorn in the recording. He added that since it is a secret ballot, he need not worry about being found out by his party.
"If they don't find out, you can work normally and [we can] provide you with money for some time," he said.
Even if he was expelled from the party, Lay Channareth promised, the CPP would provide Seng Sophorn with "100,000 riels [$25] every month until the end of the mandate", as well as an opportunity to stand as a CPP candidate at the next commune council elections.
SRP President Sam Rainsy told the Post he was unsurprised by the tape recording, since the CPP had made many previous attempts to "lure" SRP officials, but that the party's appeals to conscience would win out over the lure of material gain.
"Their tricks are based on money and promises of personal gain, but most SRP officials have ideals," he said.
SRP Cabinet chief Keo Phirum, who is the party's first candidate for the Preah Sihanouk provincial council, said the party had faced a lot of problems from vote-buying earlier in the year, but that he trusted the province's 41 SRP commune councillors to stand strong.
"[Two months ago], former commune councillors who defected to the CPP came back to persuade our commune councillors," he said. But he added that subsequent discussions with councillors had "strengthened" their will to stay within the opposition fold.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, said that any party with evidence of bribery could file a complaint with the NEC.
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said the upcoming election would likely involve "a lot" of vote-buying but was more concerned about the "limited" nature of the elections.
With the poll restricted to party representatives, the results were a foregone conclusion, Koul Panha said, providing incentives for vote-buying.
"This system limits participation, and we want to make sure it will be reformed," he said.