The ruling CPP claimed Wednesday that membership of the party has surpassed the 5 million mark, officials said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the party had pushed its membership above 5 million recently due to a spate of defections by members of other political parties to the CPP since the Oct 24, 2006, voter registration deadline for April’s commune elections.
“Before the registration for the election we had less than 5 million, but now we have more than 5 million,” Cheam Yeap said.
“Some people are disappointed with the other parties and defected to the CPP,” he said, adding that around 1,000 people had recently defected to the CPP in just two districts in Prey Veng province.
“We don’t give gifts to them,” he added. “I would be ashamed of myself if I gave gifts.”
Hun Neng, CPP governor of Kompong Cham province and brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said there are 500,000 CPP members in his province alone. The CPP’s growing popularity is due to its grassroots appeal, he said.
“CPP members stay with the people and never abandon them, unlike other parties who only visit before the election and go back abroad,” he added.
Hun Neng said that the CPP does give gifts to its supporters, but said the party is not buying anyone’s vote.
According to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, 11,764 people have joined the CPP since December alone.
Some of these are defectors, but many are young people who have just become old enough to join a political party, said Mar Sophal, Comfrel monitoring chief.
Mar Sophal said he believed that 5 million people are members of the CPP, but he doubted that all of them will vote for the party at the commune elections in April.
“When they heard that they would get gifts, they were happy to join with the CPP,” he said.
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said that vote buying by the CPP is common but that party officials mask it by claiming the distribution of gifts is only to people already affiliated with the party.
She added that the practice is likely effective in poorer rural areas where access to information is often limited.
“You bombard these people with gifts and they will join,” she said.
Mu Sochua added that CPP officials from village chiefs on up are given member quotas that they must meet or risk losing their position.
“[The CPP] keep a very close watch on the numbers…and the pressure on officials to meet quotas is intense,” she said.