FACING lack of recognition and a shortage of funds, their problems compounded by
a seat allocation process which favors their bigger, better-known rivals, the small
parties running in this month's election are struggling against the odds.
Len Kep, head of the New Kampuchea Party, said he will campaign as much as he can,
funds permitting. He was forced to borrow $1,500 from a friend to register the party,
but is loath to accept large donations for fear they have strings attached.
"If someone gives me big, big money like $1,000 to support my party I will not
accept it, but if they give me $5 or $10 I will take it, because this money is clean,"
Kep said party members have used their own money to reach individual voters at home
in the provinces quietly, without street rallies.
"To campaign in the street is to waste money, insult the public traffic, and
annoy people," the civic-minded candidate said.
Thach Reng, head of the Light of Liberty-Mr Thach Reng Party, noted that many small
parties were battling money troubles.
"We spent already 10 million riel to register," he said. "At least
they could loan us that."
According to the electoral law, any party that fails to win a seat, or at least 3%
of the national vote, must forfeit its registration deposit.
NEC media chief Leng Sochea said: "Maybe half of the small parties complained
to the NEC many, many times. They ask the NEC to arbitrate to get money from the
government." He added it was up to the government, not the NEC, to make loans.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon declined to comment on whether loans would be forthcoming.
Thach Reng added he was considering forming an alliance with other small, non-affiliated
parties in order to pool resources and consolidate support.
"I would like to create a third force, you know, a kingmaker," he said.
However, Khmer Angkor Party president Kong Mony scoffed at parties that complained
"If they don't have any money they should not do politics," he said. "How
can they manage to lead the country in the future if they are unable to start their
political activities from now?"
He admitted that his own Khmer Angkor Party had not held any rallies or convoys since
the election campaign started. He said such activities are not interesting and a
waste of money.
"To campaign in a convoy in the street is just for a show for the people to
have a look only, and sometimes people never read the party's leaflets you gave to
them ... they just shove it away," said Mony, who is a former member of Sam
Rainsy's now-defunct Khmer Nation Party (KNP).
Rainsy and Kong Mony fought over the use of the KNP name, resulting in a Ministry
of Interior decision that neither party could use it.
Kep agreed that for him, traditional campaign tactics like clever logos and big rallies
are not a priority.
"The logo cannot speak and cannot walk and talk with the people," he said,
although his party's trademark rabbit reading a book has been admired by some. "And
to hire people to attend meetings means forcing them to join the party without freedom,"
Another difficulty facing small parties is a new seat allocation system which forsakes
strict proportionality and favors the more popular parties.
"The old system was just fair, one hundred percent proportional. The new system
is not as representative," said Peter Schier, permanent representative of the
democracy-building Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The change from the UNTAC system was made in the election law, passed by the National
Assembly in December 1997. The old system used a simple formula to allocate seats
which were not clearly won outright.
For example, under the old system if two parties fighting for six seats won enough
votes to hold 5.3 and 0.7 seats, respectively, the latter party would be awarded
the sixth seat because its 0.7 vote is larger than the remaining 0.3. But under the
new system, the first party could win all six seats.
"Basically, the smaller parties now need more votes than before in order to
get a seat," Schier said. He explained that under the new formula, projections
indicate that in Kampong Cham, for example, the votes needed to win a seat have jumped
from 26,000 per seat to 43,000 per seat.
Thach Reng said he was "very anxious" about the new system. "The leftover
goes to the party who has [many] seats," he said, adding he believed the new
system is not democratic. "Maybe I will make a petition to change the law,"
The NEC's Sochea said at Post press time none of the 39 contenders had dropped out
of the race.
Kep, for one, says New Kampuchea Party is determined to battle on. "I believe
my party will keep going ahead. Even if we walk, or sometimes we have to crawl, we
must go on - even if we reach the goal after someone else."