Voters in at least one part of Siem Reap province say that choosing a leader is not up to gifts, or complex legal proceedings, but instead comes down to the will of each individual.
The voters of Kien Sangke commune, Sothnykum district, echoed experiences of other Cambodians across the country in the run-up to general elections in July: that they were facing irregularities but planned to vote their will.
Like others, these voters have been intimidated at the local level, by village or commune chiefs, have found it hard to get voter identification, and have been offered gifts and other promises in exchange for their votes.
Farmer Huy Nai, 62, said he received gifts every election season, and every election he voted in secret.
“No one is going to force you or see who you are voting for,” he said.
No gift was worth the loss of a vote, said Pan Pov, 35.
“If they take my ID in exchange for a gift, I will not give it to them, because I need to go vote,” he said, referring to allegations that members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party were trying to take cards.
The CPP is one of 11 parties contesting the general elections, where more than 8 million people have registered.
Two men from one village both complained they have registered in the past but weren’t able to vote because they did not get their identification in time.
“I don’t know why they haven’t given it to me,” said Chhoeung Chhay. “I’d really like to go vote.”
Fellow villager Bun Chhay said he spent some of his own money for a photo for his card, but had not received it yet, in what threatens to be a repeat of his experience in local elections last year.
“I went to vote once last year, but I was not allowed because they said I had no ID,” he said.
If there are irregularities in Sothnykum district, they have not been reported to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, monitor Mao Yin said.
Farmer Min Chea, 57, from Kien Sang Ke village, said his wife had received a sarong in the past week, and he himself had claimed to be a supporter of the CPP in order to get gifts.
“Gift-giving, I have to take, but to vote in the secret booth, no one knows who you are voting for,” he said.
In the past, he had taken gifts to persuade 10 others to vote CPP, but he said he wasn’t sure they actually did.
“I just told them, but who knows whether they voted for CPP, because we do not see them,” he said.
Siem Reap Governor Su Phirin, of the CPP, denied allegations the party was involved in vote-buying.
“It’s impossible, and I do not believe there is such a plan, because who would be silly enough to buy people’s vote?” he asked. “Voting is secret, and who knows which party they are ticking for?”
High school student Dy Na, 22, said he was likely to “tick” for the party that wasn’t forcing people to vote a certain direction.
“If they force me to vote, I will not vote for them,” he said.