Group Raises Concerns Over Election as Campaign Spending Seen to Rise Dramatically

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party spent $24 million on political campaigning ahead of the local elections, nearly five times as much as the opposition, according to figures released by a civil society group.

The Situation Room, a group comprising several election monitoring NGOs, said on Saturday that the CPP, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, had spent some $15,000 on average campaigning in each commune.

Sien Burith, a spokesman for the Situation Room, said by comparison the opposition spent about $5.6 million nationwide, or about $3,500 per commune.

Both major parties saw large increases in spending compared with campaigning ahead of the 2012 commune elections — a two thirds increase for the CPP, while the Cambodia National Rescue Party more than doubled its campaign spending.

Minor parties such as the royalist Funcinpec also upped their spending significantly, Burith added. He said the figures were calculated based on observed political rallies, meetings, paraphernalia and other basic campaign activities.

Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, said the party’s campaign activities were funded by local branches and dismissed the Situation Room’s calculations. “It’s an exaggeration for any group to make an assessment about excessive spending,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yim Sovann, CNRP spokesman, claimed the party only spent about $2 million on its campaign.

“I don’t know what formula [was] used to calculate, but the CNRP, and I did a survey and collected figures from provinces, [and] only spent about $2 million,” he said.

Also on Saturday, the Situation Room said that the election had not been fully free and fair, prompting a stern response from Hun Sen. The group admitted that the election had been held in a much improved environment when compared with 2012, but claimed that numerous irregularities had occurred, including a lack of transparency in campaign finance, the misuse of state resources and the influence of the military in the political process.

“These problems combined to result in significant limitations on the quality of the poll, such that elections in Cambodia cannot yet be considered fully free and fair,” it said in a statement.

“We are trying to push political parties to be more open about their expenses to let the people know. This would help political parties to win trust from voters,” said Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, a member of the Situation Room.

Hun Sen on Monday rejected the findings, saying the group’s criteria for a free election included “when people can walk into the home of the prime minister or kill the prime minister.”