The ruling CPP will pay a bonus of 500,000 riel (about $125) to each of its commune councilors just weeks before they go to the polls to vote in the next elections for district, city and provincial councilors in May.
According to a copy of a letter signed on Monday by the head of the party’s Central Committee, Say Chhum, provincial-level central committee directors will be expected to facilitate the payments.
“Offer 500,000 riel per person equally across the country,” it instructed the directors. “The time to offer money to all CPP commune councilors is made at the same time when the New Year celebration is nearing.”
The notice said provincial working groups need to pay up if they can afford it and advise the central committee of their ability to pay by the end of the month, otherwise “the central level will help solve the problem.”
Mr. Chhum could not be reached for comment, but CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he saw no problem with the financial donations to the party’s 8,292 councilors, including commune chiefs, and does not consider it a ploy to buy votes for the May 18 election.
“It is not an unusual thing, because the members of party have the ability and will help donate money,” he said before declining to comment further.
Suos Siphay, chief of Ta Ches commune in Kompong Chhnang province’s Kompong Tralach district, said he welcomed the decision to pay him. Mr. Siphay said this was the first time that the CPP had offered lump-sum payments to commune councilors.
“Although I haven’t received any information yet about the money-giving, I don’t think it’s a problem when political parties help and give money to their members,” he said.
He declined to comment when asked whether or not the money would influence his decision when it comes to the vote. Commune officials are expected to vote for their own parties, although last year’s national election indicated that even card-carrying members of the CPP chose otherwise when in the privacy of the voting booth.
National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha said there is nothing untoward about giving gifts and money to councilors.
“In fact, there is no law banning political parties and common people from giving money to anyone,” he said.
“There is a specific timeframe banning the giving of gifts, money and properties or making a threat against someone to vote for a particular party,” he said. “Such a ban is just for the period of the election campaign,” which is from May 2 to May 16. Khmer New Year will begin on April 14 this year.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said it looks like the CPP lacks confidence in what its councilors will do on voting day.
“In Cambodia, if it’s not during the election campaign, its not vote buying—but many countries would consider it vote-buying,” he said.
“But still this is an intention to influence voters…they are not confident—maybe they are unhappy with the current situation.”
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)
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