The amount of money political parties spent on the campaign trail ahead of yesterday’s nationwide commune elections varied wildly, with observers and party members yesterday blaming the lack of a campaign finance law in Cambodia for what they characterised as the uneven playing field among vying parties.
Party expenditures were thrust into the spotlight on Friday, when Prime Minister Hun Sen disclosed that his party had paid $300 a minute to multiple TV stations for hours of live coverage of the Cambodian People’s Party’s final campaign rally. Based on that figure, confirmed by several of the stations, the CPP would have spent $576,000 on the day’s coverage alone.
The government, meanwhile, has declined to draft and adopt a campaign finance law, which would impose campaign spending limits and require public disclosure of the funds, despite recommendations by NGOs that such a law be created, observers said yesterday.
“In Cambodia, we don’t have a law on campaign financing,” said National Election Committee (NEC) member and spokesman Hang Puthea. “We did not know about the financial statement for each party. We could not do anything yet.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said a rough estimate of the party’s campaign spending was between $1.7 million and $2 million. Most came from candidates themselves and members of parliament, he said.
“Now, it’s very unfair,” he said. “Some parties spend a lot of money . . . It leads to a very unfair campaign.”
CPP spokesman Sous Yara said the party hadn’t yet calculated how much it spent, and declined to comment further.
But the amount it paid for Friday’s airtime is close to the half a million that League for Democracy Party founder and President Khem Veasna said his party spent during the entire two-week campaign period.
Beehive Social Democratic Party Director Mam Sonando said his party spent $30,000.
“I would like to do more if I could afford it,” he said.
Sam Inn, of the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP), said the party spent a total of $27,000.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of election monitor Nicfec, said his organisation had recommended that the NEC impose controls on campaign spending, only to be told by the NEC that it “couldn’t do anything”. But his organisation will push for the law before next year’s national election, he said.
“It’s political,” he said of the delay in creating such law. “The ruling party . . . spend[s] a lot of money, so they don’t want the NEC to control [it].”
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said there’s plenty of time to adopt a law ahead of the national elections. But without the law, there is a “lack of [a] level playing field”, he added.
The GDP’s Inn said such a law would “assure the accountability . . . from every party”.
“Now, the CPP has an advantage.”
Additional reporting by Kong Meta