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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Election: An Analysis by Numbers

The Election: An Analysis by Numbers

The elections in Cambodia are over, though doubts and recriminations remain. The

most technically complex and expensive election that Cambodia has ever had - and

is likely to have - is now history. It is not too early to ask what can be learned

from these historical elections.

Pre-election activity was marred and constrained by violence, but the political ferment

that occurred is unprecedented in Cambodia's (admittedly) limited experience with


In the 1993 elections only four parties won seats, two of them overwhelmingly. But

twenty parties were formed, party offices were established nation-wide, thousands

of political rallies and meetings were held, and hundreds of thousands of Cambodians

participated. Though the small parties did not win seats, they did win votes. Every

political party won votes in every Province (as did UNTAC, but that is another story).

Why did these small parties win the votes that they did? Was it the consequence of

successful campaign activity, or was it because in many provinces some voters did

not understand what they were doing?

Two conclusions are indicated by a first-cut statistical analysis of provincial and

nation-wide elections returns. First, the small parties received very little relative

benefit from their campaign activities. Second, in many provinces the distribution

of votes for the small parties is indistinguishable from a vote assignment that would

occur from a random process.

The first conclusion indicates that the small parties would have been almost as well

off had they not campaigned (in terms of the total number of votes that they got).

The second conclusion indicates that the small parties got votes (even in Provinces

where they had no offices and did no campaigning) because voters did not understand

what they were doing, rather than as a consequence of informed choice.

The first conclusion indicates the over-whelming advantages that the large parties

had in the minds and pencils of the voters, and the second indicates problems with

the education of the voters.

Undoubtedly the problem would have been much greater had there been not been voter

education (civic education) by UNTAC District Electoral Supervisors. The major parties

also helped, perhaps heeding the advice of the National Democratic Institute, by

posters and radio descriptions of how to vote - for their party. CPP posters blurred

all party symbols except their own in the upper left-hand corner. FUNCINPEC's instructions

were most imaginative. Voters were told to fold the ballot in half and half again,

to smooth the creases and re-open it. "X" marks the spot. The FUNCINPEC

Party symbol lay where the creases crossed!

This analysis depends on two kinds of statistical tests, regression analysis and

tests for randomness. The data used came from a variety of sources: interviews with

the small parties themselves, the Electoral Component and the Spokesman's Office

of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.

Regression analysis was used to determine whether a statistically significant relationship

existed between the number of votes that any small party received and the number

of party offices that it opened, the number of political rallies that it held, and/or

the number of people who attended their rallies? A positive relationship would indicate

that the more a party campaigned, the more votes it could expect to get. A negative

relationship, the reverse.

There was no statistically significant relationship between the votes received by

any small party and the magnitude of their campaign activity in any Province.

If opening party offices or holding political rallies did not produce significantly

more votes, and further if parties were not penalized by not holding rallies or opening

offices, how can we explain the votes that they did get?

The data was perused to determine whether the votes among the small parties gave

any evidence of choice and preference, or were more likely to be random. This analysis

showed that in seven provinces, voting patterns for the small parties were more likely

to be a random product than to be the product of informed choice But in other provinces

clear choices were obvious. In other provinces the data was ambiguous, in these the

data might have been produced by a random process.

The regression model indicates that for the sixteen smallest parties campaign efforts

to get out the vote were of little benefit, those parties who bothered to campaign

were only marginally benefited. Those parties which did not campaign, did not seem

to be penalized. The failure of a party to campaign or to open offices did not result

in gaining no or fewer votes. In fact they got more or less the same number of votes,

on a nation-wide basis as did those parties which campaigned more vigorously. Statistical

analysis indicates that it is more likely (in many provinces) that they got votes

because the voters did not know what to do than as a consequence of informed choice.

With the nation-wide data some weak relationships were indicated. If we look only

at party offices established there were weak positive relationships between the total

number of votes received nation-wide by a small party and the number of political

offices opened (nation-wide) by a that small party.

A similar weak relationship held between the total number of votes and the total

number of supporters at rallies. Of the two, the stronger relationship was between

the total number of votes and the number of political offices. However, the marginal

utility of opening a party office was very small. The number of votes that a small

party could expect nation-wide, if it opened no party offices was between 11648 and


One potential explanation is that a fraction of voters in each province did not know

what they were doing. Were the small parties beneficiaries of by votes cast by people

who were unsure what to do, where to mark, how to mark?

One would like to think that all voters knew what to do when they went into the voting

booth. But informal interviews with District Electoral Supervisors, (DES) with UNTAC

Electoral Interpreters, International Observers, and Party Observers indicate that

lack of understanding was more prevalent than we might want to think. One BLDP Party

Observer said, "Some people just marked anywhere, they did not know what the

symbols meant." A DES from Rattanakiri said, "Some of the people just panicked

in the voting booth, they simply did not know what to do."

This hypothesis, and that is all that it is, is given additional weight by the fact

that there were so many bad ballots. There were thousands in every province. Provincial

percentages varied from 2.65 percent to 7.37 percent of votes cast. In absolute numbers

they ranged from 765 in Mondulkiri to 17,940 in Kampong Cham; the total was more

than 110,000.

According to the statistical analysis, seven provinces had a pattern of voting for

the small parties which appears to be random. These are Koh Kong (3.57 %), Kampong

Speu (3.04%), Mondulkiri (7.37%), Preah Vihear (5.70%), Sihanoukville (3.68%), Stung

Treng (3.74%), Svay Rieng (2.90%). The numbers in the parentheses are the numbers

of ballots cast in those provinces for which no preference for a single party could

be determined -- these ballots had to be ignored in the UNTAC vote tally.

Those provinces in which the distribution might be random include Kampong Chnang

(4.07%), Kampot (4.13%), Prey Veng (3.24%), Siem Riep (3.60%), and Takeo (3.45%).

The remaining provinces are very unlikely to be random. These include Ratanakiri

(5.20%), Phnom Pehn (?) Kampong Thom (3.32%), Pursat (3.87%), Kandal (2.45%), Battambang

(2.68%), Kratie (2.40%), Kampong Cham (3 00%) and Beantey Meanchey (2.65%).

It seems in general that those provinces in which there were large percentages of

what UNTAC called "informal" ballots, are also the provinces in which the

voting patterns for the small parties indicate a lack of understanding on the part

of the voters.

The glaring exception is Rattanakiri in which 5.2% of the ballots were rejected,

and in which the small party voting does not appear to be random. Part of that is

the result of the voting for the Khmer National Congress Party. The KNCP had no offices

in the province, nor did it hold any rallies, but it was third in the tally. It also

was the party whose symbol appeared in the lower right hand corner of the ballot.

The interpretation in Rattanakiri was that KNCP received a lot of votes that were

intended for CPP, the voters just had the ballot upside-down.

These conclusions allow us to assess one of the major issues of the campaign period:

access to the voters by campaigning parties. In the brief six-week campaign period

a major issue was the physical safety of the participants. Second in importance,

and not unrelated, was access to the people of Cambodia: physical access for campaigning,

media access to propagandize.

The issue is a central one for democratic elections. In principle the more informed

the voters are about the plans, programs, and promises of a political party, the

more likely it is that voting will reflect informed choice.

How the smaller parties did was not the result of a dearth of ideas. Extensive interviews

conducted during the campaign period indicate that most of these small parties were

filled with serious and committed people, who had a variety of ideas for the future

of Cambodia. Many had spent time in America and France, and were filled with the

ambition to implement ideas of governance that they thought Cambodia could use. Some

had little idea what they were talking about, but many could articulate what democracy

was about better than most Americans. Men like Chak Sareun and Bit Seanglim and others,

had well articulated visions of Cambodia's future.

The two largest parties had huge advantages. Both had money. CPP had incumbency and

the "control of administrative structures", like the police, the army and

the judiciary. FUNCINPEC was seen as Prince Sihanouk's party. In addition, both parties

had, in the end, unfettered access to television broad-casting, as both had stations.

Though the Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections, they played an important role (besides

declining to disrupt the elections), but a contradictory one. CPP was aided by being

understood as willing to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge, even if that meant

war. FUNCINPEC was aided by being perceived as able to solve the "Khmer Rouge

problem" without war.

The advantage of the two biggest parties can be summed up as "name recognition",

a simplistic phrase to cover a complex reality. But what is striking about the election

is that the efforts of the smallest parties to alter this reality by campaigning

was to almost no avail.

One feature of the lead-up to the elections in Cambodia was the proliferation of

party offices in Phnom Penh and in the Provinces. By the time of the elections UNTAC

provincial offices reported that over 2000 party offices had been established. Of

these offices, CPP had 644 and FUNCINPEC 762, for a combined total of 1406. BLDP

had 204 offices, and LDP, 146. The remaining 276 offices were shared among the 16

smallest parties. Thus 86 percent of the party offices were maintained by the largest

parties. Among the 16 small parties Molinaka had fifty-seven.

The data is over-whelmed by the two largest parties. In fact if all the parties,

large and small are considered together there are very strong relationships between

the number of party offices and the number of votes received. But if the small parties

are taken as a separate category, as seems sensible, such a linkage disappears.

Among the smallest parties, the over-all relationship between votes received and

number of party offices opened is implied by a simple examination of the data. Two

parties had only one office in all of Cambodia, but they did comparatively well in

spite of that. Cambodian Farmers' Independent Party got 37,474 total votes even though

it had only one office. This is almost as well as the Democratic Party's 41,799 with

their 56 offices, and much better than the National Khmer Party's 7827 votes with

its eight offices.

Fifteen political parties held mass political meetings during the campaign period.

The vast majority of the meetings were single party meetings; 2017 were held.

Again the two largest parties were the most visible. CPP held 1064 meetings, or 52.8%

of the total, FUNCINPEC held 346, about 17%. The next closest party was BLDP with

212 meetings. The remaining 267 meetings were distributed among the other 12 parties,

with the LDP having the largest total, 171. Five parties held no meetings reported


As these numbers indicate, CPP did less well than FUNCINPEC though it had far and

away the most meetings. Among the smaller parties, in provincial results, there is

not a significant relationship between the number of political meetings that a party

had and the number of votes that it received.



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