The fledgling Grassroots Democracy Party appealed yesterday to the predecessors of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party to contest this year’s upcoming elections in a bid to dilute the ruling party’s vote share – an offer they quickly turned down.
Following the dissolution of the CNRP in November, the Candlelight Party – formerly the Sam Rainsy Party – and the Human Rights Party made it clear they would not contest the July 29 national elections. The two parties merged in 2012 to form the CNRP, coming closer than any opposition party ever to unseating the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Although the CNRP is now banned, with 118 of its officials blacklisted for five years, there is no order preventing the two lesser parties from joining the ballot.
The GDP, which counts the beloved late political analyst Kem Ley as one of its founders, has said it will compete in the elections and field candidates in all 25 provinces.
The party yesterday suggested via its Facebook page that the SRP and HRP should participate in the upcoming elections as separate entities or as a new, combined force. GDP Secretary-General Sam Inn said this would enable the three to cut into the CPP’s vote share and prevent it from getting a majority in the National Assembly.
“So we think that the CNRP can help to encourage people and hope to vote and we believe that this can lead to the breaking of the 50 percent plus 1 [majority] of the CPP,” Inn said.
Prior to the dissolution, the CPP held 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55. Thanks to rushed amendments to electoral laws passed before the Supreme Court decision to dissolve the CNRP, the ruling party now has 79 seats, with the minor royalist party Funcinpec holding 41, and three seats divided among even smaller parties.
Inn contends that instead of boycotting the elections after the CNRP’s dissolution, GDP’s participation was the only way to move the democratic process in Cambodia forward.
That strategy runs counter to pledges from former CNRP officials, who have maintained that there is no pretence of democracy, or possibility of a fair election, unless the CNRP is restored.
The GDP’s call to run was swiftly rejected by Candlelight and the HRP yesterday, with Teav Vannol, acting president of Candlelight, saying he had not heard of the GDP’s suggestion but that it was near impossible they would contest.
“We see the political situation is terrible. We can see that the ruling party restricts democrats and it means that it has killed democracy in Cambodia,” Vannol said.
Even if they participated and won the elections, he said, there was very little chance the ruling party would let go of power.
Son Soubert, president of the HRP, said the party felt it best to sit out the July ballot and let the CPP feel pressure internationally for having effectively rigged the vote.
“Not going to vote is better than participating in it . . . Then the international community won’t recognise the CPP [government],” he said.
Were the SRP and HRP to join the elections, the GDP’s proposal could hit a mathematical roadblock because of how National Assembly seats are calculated in Cambodia, with purportedly proportional seat allocations disproportionately skewed to favour the party with the largest bloc of votes.
In the 2008 national elections, the SRP and HRP contested separately and won a combined 29 National Assembly seats, but missed out on others because they formed separate blocs.
For example, in Kampong Cham, they would have picked up eight seats if they had run as a united party, instead of the combined seven they took separately.
In order to reach a meaningful majority, the three would have to contest as a coalition, coordinating candidates across different provinces so their votes were not fractured, said Yoeurng Sotheara, of the election watchdog Comfrel.
“According to the formula, the winner takes advantage of the calculations,” he said. “To compete, the smaller parties need to combine together, but it is still challenging and difficult.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the GDP was free to make such an appeal to other parties, but said under the current conditions participation in the elections would retroactively legitimise the government’s widely condemned crackdown.
“When conditions for free and fair elections do not exist, participating in the scheduled election would be tantamount to lending legitimacy to the present undemocratic rule,” he said.