A CPP working group in Battambang province led by the country’s top immigration official handed out cash to more than 100 security guards, party election observers, commune councilor candidates and party activists on Saturday, in what one election monitor dubbed a vote-buying scheme ahead of the June 4 commune elections.
Sok Phal, the director of immigration at the Interior Ministry and head of the ruling party’s district working group, presided over a ceremony on Saturday at which the party unveiled a 400-meter-long canal and a 2,800-meter dirt road it built in Phnom Sampov commune, according to Banan district governor Chum Nhor.
Mr. Phal also donated 200,000 riel, or about $50, to each of the 31 CPP commune councilor candidates in the district, according to Mr. Nhor. The CPP working group donated 20,000 riel, or about $5, each to 42 security guards, while 42 ruling party election observers got 40,000 riel, or about $10, and 25 activists went home with 50,000 riel, or about $12.50, apiece.
“We did not buy votes because we did not tell people to promise to vote for us,” Mr. Nhor said on Sunday. “We just gave them some money to buy noodles or coffee and have energy to do their job.”
Trading cash for votes is illegal, but the National Election Committee has said it will only investigate cases that occur during the two-week campaign period, which begins on Saturday.
Sotheara Yoeurng, the law and monitoring officer at election monitor the Committee for Free and Fair Elections said the donations amounted to vote buying, and that the handouts should be barred for longer than the two weeks allotted for campaigning.
“It’s so strange in Cambodian election law, that some kind of these acts become [the] normal culture of the country,” he said. “Money can change everything. Money can even change minds of the voters.”
But Mr. Yoeurng said the practice may be ineffective as voters have become better educated, pointing to the CNRP’s surprisingly strong 2013 national election showing despite what he said was a pre-campaign spending spree by the ruling party.
That opinion is bolstered by a study published in December by Swedish academic Astrid Noren-Nilsson, who found just five out of 192 voters she interviewed after the 2013 election said they had voted for the CPP out of appreciation for gifts.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann called the handouts an “internal affair” for the CPP, but drew a contrast with the opposition, for which he claimed party members were donors rather than recipients of funds.
“Even the commune councilors have to contribute,” he said.
But political analyst Cham Bunthet said vote buying was an old hobby of all Cambodian political parties, including Funcinpec in the 1990s and the CNRP in 2013. Though there was nothing stopping the CPP from paying volunteer security guards, he said, the practice raised doubts about their relationship with politicians.
“That kind of politics—I don’t support it at all,” he said.