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Polls a budget buster?

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People went to vote in 2013 National Election. Sreng Meng Srun

Polls a budget buster?

The National Election Committee (NEC) will spend $53 million to conduct the July 29 national polls. The figure is higher than previously allocated, after the European Union (EU) and the US suspended donations following last year’s court-mandated dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“For the national elections, spending will be about $53 million … that is our budget,” said NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom. He said Japan, China and other international partners have provided relevant materials and equipment.

Sovannarom said the NEC spent $19.3 million to conduct the 2013 national elections and $42.7 million for last year’s commune elections. However, he declined to reveal the sum donated by the EU for those elections.

Spending for the July elections is similar to the annual budget of the Ministry of Labour, which receives $54 million.

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) Executive Director Sam Kun-theamy, said the $53 million had been reserved in the national budget, and that the amount is huge for a developing country like Cambodia.

Kuntheamy also said that some countries in the international community would not recognise the results of the elections.

“If most of the first world countries do not recognise the election results, we will see the huge amount of money spent as a waste.

“When there is an international budget, they use it for the election. In the past, we spent less when we had aid and donations. The amount of spending and the result, whether it is recognised and worth it or not, has to be balanced,” he said.

Former CNRP lawmaker Cheam Channy said the upcoming election is meaningless and a waste of money as the international community will not recognise the results.

“The election is meaningless and a huge amount of money will be spent on a meaningless election . . . we can see that the international community, including the US and EU, have suspended their financial election donations, so to make up for the lost funding, the national budget will be impacted.

“This means that we suffer a double loss through spending on a meaningless election and loss of money from the national budget,” Channy said.

“The national budget is from tax and other income for the country . . . it is through the efforts of our people, and we are not spending the money properly on issues that matter, such as upholding democracy and respecting human rights.

“This is all a game. We already know that the ruling party will win the election 100 percent,” he added.

The EU declared suspending aid for the NEC on allegations that the national elections will not be free and fair, and because the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court. The US also withdrew funding for similar reasons.

Political analyst Hang Vitou said on Tuesday that the budget will disappoint the people because it is through their efforts and taxes that the spending is being funded.

He also said the suspension of international aid by certain countries has damaged Cambodia’s reputation and will delegitimise the elections.

“The over $50 million allocated for the election is the people’s money, and represents the sweat and blood of the people . . . it affects the country’s reputation as we used to get international aid and donations for elections.

“But now, funding has been cut, placing more of the burden on the people because it is the national budget to which they contribute,” Vitou said.

According to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 13, and obtained by The Post on Monday, the government recently transferred $1 million from the national budget to the NEC to help prepare for and conduct the election, and announce the results.

“The government permits the transfer budget of 4,279,000,000 riel . . . to the NEC for the management of the 2018 election,” the sub-decree said.

The EU pledged to provide €10 million to support the NEC in the 2017 commune elections and 2018 national elections.

It is not clear how much of that money was spent, but EU Ambassador to Cambodia Christopher George Edgar said in an interview in December last year that a large portion of that budget was already spent on equipment.

Previously, Edgar told the head of the NEC via a letter, that the CNRP’s dissolution meant that this year’s election, without the presence of the only viable opposition party, will not be legitimate and that the EU had no faith or trust in it.

In December last year, Hun Sen mocked the US and EU, saying they cannot force his government to do as they wished, and that his government is not concerned about any economic or diplomatic sanctions targeting Cambodian officials.

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