Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Time for cleaning up campaigns



Time for cleaning up campaigns

Hundreds of Cambodian People’s Party supporters drive through the streets of Phnom Penh
Hundreds of Cambodian People’s Party supporters drive through the streets of Phnom Penh during the campaign period of the national elections in 2013.

Time for cleaning up campaigns

Year 2018. The Constitutional Council has dealt with all the contentious electoral disputes.

The National Election Committee (NEC) stands by its final results. Suppose no party has won a sufficient majority to form the government alone.

Suppose talks about a coalition government have borne no fruits as the biggest parties refuse to work together while the very few small parties that have won a seat or two for the first time only desire to focus on their parliamentary role.

The political climate, as often has been the case, doesn’t look very promising. Big businesses fear instability. And so on and so forth.

If the above scenario ever became true, much of it would owe to some hidden interventions from those who often do not play politics, at least not publicly: the big guys who have a lot of cash.

In all the previous elections, so much cash circulated with nobody accurately keeping track of those transactions.

Nobody can boast having knowledge of who has actually spent how much and for whom.

Although the Political Party Law requires each political party to maintain an official bank account to record campaign-related incomes and expenses, this banking tool doesn’t seem to have done the job that well when such law is not being enforced or without effective mechanism to enforce the law.

Some people might even wonder whether there were cases of money laundering under the disguise of financial contributions to parties in one way or another.

Just as the government has a legitimate right to know the sources of income of non-governmental organisations and associations, voters have an inherent right to know how political parties get monies to fund their expensive campaign.

If parties cannot come out clean with their monies, how could voters trust that their government can ever be clean?

In a multiparty system, even an appearance of corruption must be avoided.

Which is why, in a famous court decision Buckley v Valeo in 1976, the US Supreme Court made it clear that there must be limits on the size of contributions because such limits constitute “primary weapons against the reality or appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions”, in other words, the limits on contributions guard against future corruption.

This court also upheld the constitutionality of the disclosure and recordkeeping requirements on all transactions.

These vital rules– limits on contributions and disclosure and recordkeeping requirements– are to integrity and transparency what food is to stomach.

If there is too much food, the stomach might burst. Likewise, when a person contributes so much money to a party, that person’s integrity might be compromised.

When anti-corruption has become the most important political agenda, a response from political parties to the citizens’ increasing demand, integrity and transparency now occupy a prominent place in Cambodian politics, particularly since all the important politicians have publicly promised to their voters that they are committed to reforms in about everything, beginning with the electoral process.

For if a person has spent a great sum of dollars for a candidate or a party, what would this candidate or party do in return when in power?

If a party cannot, upon disclosure, explain why a lot of contributions and expenses for the campaign were not recorded in the party’s official bank account, how can voters entrust that party with managing the national budget?

Certainly, one may realise it would be difficult to throw all the responsibilities at politicians alone.

Politicians anywhere in the world naturally crave for power and are ready to do almost anything.

Thus, voters themselves ought to take a more direct responsibility in demanding for a law that limits the amount of money or other type of property anyone or any entity or business can contribute to a candidate or a party and makes disclosure and recordkeeping compulsory.

The restriction on contributions would help to reduce the level of interdependency between politics and business, which often leads to corruption.

When no big dirty money is involved in politics, candidates and parties will have to upgrade their professionalism, play by the rules, and begin competing more and more on realistic ideas, policies and personal attributes.

The electoral campaign would be cleaner and the election results will tend to be more accurate.

When people with enormous cash have so much less influence on politics, they need not fear election results at all.

Why? Because once they have stopped paying big amount to political parties, they would indeed have paved the way for a safer political process in the first place.

Preap Kol is the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Banteay Meanchey gunfight sees 15 Thais arrested, three officers injured

    The Banteay Meanchey Military Police have arrested 15 Thai suspects and their accomplices after a gun battle between two Thai groups caused injuries to three police officers in the early hours of November 21, local authorities said. National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that according to

  • PM: Do not defile Tonle Sap swamp forest or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone – including government officials – involved with the deforestation of the flooded forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake because it is an area important to the spawning of many species of fish, among other reasons. Speaking in a