The basic law governing political party activity is the 1997 Law on Political Parties and the Election of the National Assembly. The law outlines fairly simple requirements for establishing political parties, including submitting to the Ministry of the Interior the party statutes, a list of its leaders, a statement of policies and political program, bank accounts, and the names and signatures of at least 4,000 registered Khmer citizens.
The Party Law requires every party to submit a yearly financial report to the Ministry of Economy and Finance and to the Ministry of the Interior that must include the party’s bank statements, lists of expenditures, and a narrative report of the party’s principal activities. Although parties are required to submit a record of expenditures, they are not required to publicly declare party assets. The ministries are responsible for reviewing these reports to ensure that there is no conflict with the constitution.
Permissible sources of funds include member contributions or dues, income from party-owned business interests, state funds, donations from private Khmer enterprises or charitable individuals, and the assets of the political party. Parties are prohibited from accepting funds from any public enterprise, government institution or nongovernmental association, or from foreign corporations (with the exception of any state funds provided under a public funding scheme). Article 28, Chapter VI, of the Party Law provides the constitutional framework for state funding of political parties. The State could allocate the national budget of equal amounts to parties for campaign purpose of members of the parliament. However, if the party fails to receive 3% of the total of valid ballots of the whole country, or which fails to gain one seat in the Parliament, the party has to pay back the allocated budget in full amount within a period of 3 months from the date of proclamation of the election final result.
The law also guarantees the parties equal access to the state media, although the opposition alleges that the spirit of this provision is routinely violated. The ruling party, they claim, regularly interferes with decisions of news content and editorial comment, resulting in biased news coverage.
The Electoral Act prohibits vote-buying by candidates or political parties during the 30-day campaign period. Any political party or candidate found guilty of “offering material or monetary incentives to buy votes” will be disqualified. The electoral regulations, which expand upon the provisions of the law, prohibit: engaging in corrupt behavior; offering contributions, gifts, and rewards, cash or in-kind, to ensure voter support; or offering rewards or gifts to encourage someone to stand as a candidate or withdraw his or her candidacy
The Electoral Act also charges the NEC with “supervising the income obtained and expenses incurred by candidates and political parties during election campaigns.” Parties are required to submit a statement identifying one central bank account, to which all campaign contributions and campaign expenses must be credited and debited, and their account books to the NEC. Many political leaders believe that the law is insufficient, as most transactions take place in cash, never appearing in the parties’ account books.
Political party finance practices
The information below is taken from 18 interviews conducted from October 6 to 10, 2003. Of those interviewed, 12 were political party officials, five represented aspects of civil society, and one was an election official. Sixteen were men and two were women. One was from the ruling party, and 11 were from the opposition.
Typical campaign practices
Cambodian political parties, with the exception of the CPP, depend on individual candidates to conduct the majority of campaign activities and to finance their campaigns. The main form of voter outreach is the provision of development projects. Given its position of power in the government and access to resources, the CPP sponsors the most development activities, including the construction of roads, schools, and infrastructure. Direct gift-giving to individuals is another common campaign method in Cambodia, and all parties participate in this practice. Parties offer cash to voters, but food and medicine are the most common gifts.
Another critical form of voter outreach is the mobilization of members through rallies and events. The candidates in each province will sponsor parties and pay for food, transport, and clothing for participants. Party leaders may attend these events to give presentations. Door-to-door campaigning is also quite common in Cambodia, with each party member assuming responsibility for visiting a fixed number of households to discuss the party and give gifts and food. The use of flyers, posters, banners, and T-shirts is also common for all parties, and the country is covered with party paraphernalia in the weeks leading up to the election.
Parties may campaign from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each day during the campaign period. Political parties must notify the local election commission and authorities three days in advance of the location of any campaign rallies.
Cambodian law puts no limits to campaign contributions or expenditures.
The largest candidate campaign expense was vote-buying/gift-giving. It is reported by NGOs and election observers that the CPP spent the most on gift-giving. Another large expenditure was “voter contact techniques,” such as rallies and events. Costs included food, transport, and per diem.
Unlike in many countries, in Cambodia the use of print, radio, and television media is not a common form of voter outreach, except for the CPP. There is some speculation as to whether the lack of media availability increases expenses for parties. Some party leaders argue that door-to-door campaigning to reach voters costs more in the end than radio or television.
Typical sources of funding
It is estimated that the majority of funding comes from the assets and businesses of the party and its leaders. NGOs and other observers report that the CPP uses state resources and assets for party purposes.
FUNCINPEC and the SRP require candidates to make a pledge prior to the party’s election registration indicating the amount they guarantee to spend during the campaign. A large pledge secures a top position on the party’s electoral list; both parties claim they must use this system because of their lack of financial resources. The candidates do not contribute their pledged amount to the party headquarters or branch offices but rather pool their finances in “provincial committees” managed by the candidates from the province. These committees determine activities for the area and create a budget; thus, candidates pay for all electioneering in that province.
The CPP also requires its candidates to pay for their positions on the party lists, but the party is also able to finance the campaigns of poorer candidates. Like FUNCINPEC and the SRP candidates, CPP candidates pay directly for their own election activities at the provincial level. However, the party also has independent financing to conduct campaign activities on its own. The party headquarters provides propaganda and other materials to all its candidates and branch offices during the campaign and holds many events across the country.
All political parties are required to report annually to the Ministry of Interior their income and expenditures, balance sheets, statements of bank accounts, and assets. These documents are not available to the public.
Regarding campaigns, the law indicates that the State shall provide funding for campaigning to political parties on an equal basis; to date, however, this provision has never been applied. Existing laws also require parties to report campaign expenditures and maintain a special account registry showing their sources of income and expenditures. The registry must remain available to the election commission for examination, if requested. The only actual government contribution to campaigns of political parties comes under the provision of free airtime on state radio and TV. The electoral authorities arrange free equal access to airtime for political party campaign messages during the 30-day campaign period. This, however, does not apply to local commune elections.
In additions, in 2013 elections, the parties normally collected donations from large business and wealthy elites to fund massive campaigns. The candidates running for a seat must contribute according to their location and rank on the candidate list. Fundraising abroad has also been a part of financing party campaigns. Between 10 and 20 per cent of their total campaign contributions come from Cambodians living in other countries.
ACE Project, Public Funding of Political Parties, http://aceproject.org/ace-en/focus/core/crb/crb05.
Money in Politics, A Study of Party Financing Practices in 22 Countries, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) 2005, http://www.eods.eu/library/NDI.Money%20in%20Politics.%20A%20Study%20Of%20Party%20Financing%20Practices%20In%2022%20Countries.pdf.
IFES, Elections in Cambodia July 28 National Assembly Elections: Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/cambodia-july-28-2013-faqs-final.pdf.
Sean Teehan and Cheang Sokla, An Unequal Playing Field, The Phnom Penh Post, June 2013, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/unequal-playing-field.