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Good Gifts, Bad Gifts, and Rights: Cambodian Popular Perceptions and the 2013 Elections

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In the Cambodian national elections in 2013, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) experienced a strong surge in support, finishing a close second to the long-incumbent Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Whilst the CNRP campaigned on an anti-money politics, rights-based agenda, the CPP has relied on gift-giving practices to maintain links with voters. This article explores changing popular conceptions of provision to assess to what extent a democratic, rights-based conscience in Cambodia has emerged under the current neo-patrimonial regime. Building on qualitative interviews with 192 voters in post-election Cambodia, it finds that gift-giving practices play a different role than current academic theorizations of popular politics, and Cambodian popular politics in particular, would lead us to expect. Ordinary Cambodians are found to make a distinction between contingent and non-contingent exchanges in electoral mobilization, rejecting the former and embracing the latter. CPP gift giving in its current guise is consequently devoid of popular legitimacy across the political camps. At the same time, the idea of meritorious gift giving lives on as an ideal, especially among CNRP supporters.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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