The National Election Committee (NEC) has approved new candidates to fill National Assembly seats left vacant by the dissolution of the opposition, drastically changing the composition of Cambodia’s parliament and providing a shot in the arm for the ailing royalist Funcinpec party.
The widely condemned dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party on November 16 left parliament with 55 empty seats, which after hastily passed amendments to the National Assembly Election Law, were slated to be filled by the remaining six minor parties that contested the 2013 elections, excluding the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
However, after the League of Democracy Party and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party refused to accept seats, the vacant spots will be distributed among just three parties. The NEC yesterday forwarded party candidate lists for Funcinpec, with 41 seats; the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP), with two; and the Khmer Economic Development Party (KEDP) with only one. The Republican Democracy Party did not muster enough votes in 2013 to enter parliament.
This leaves the 11 seats rejected by the two parties up for grabs, with the amended law calling for another round of redistribution, this time with the inclusion of the CPP.
“In the case other parties don’t accept the seats of the dissolved party, the seats must be divided with the parties in the parliament,” said NEC Deputy Secretary-General Som Sorida. “So, now three parties, plus the CPP.”
Officials were yesterday reluctant to give the breakdown of the remaining 11 seats, but according to the formula outlined in the law, all would go to the CPP, taking its parliamentary tally from 68 seats to 79.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan did not confirm that the ruling party would be the beneficiary of any new seats, only saying they would be welcome. “It is up to the NEC to decide. Yes, if it comes to us, we will accept it,” he said.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the lists had been received and would be approved “quickly”.
Funcinpec has seen its political fortunes dwindling since its 1990s heyday. It won zero seats during the 2013 national elections, down from the 58 it captured during the UN-adminstered elections in 1993, when party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh was elevated to first prime minister.
Ranariddh could not be reached yesterday but has said he will not be a “slave” to Prime Minister Hun Sen, with party spokesman Nheb Bun Chin previously saying the reallocation was Funcinpec taking back its “customers” after the CNRP “took all my supporters”.
Yesterday, Bun Chin struck a more sober note, saying the party’s re-entry into parliament was to ensure political stability. He did not address questions about whether their 41 seats were a fair representation of the less than 4 percent of the vote they received in 2013.
“What we care is about peace, stability, and development . . . Why do we need to think about other things?” he said, adding that the party wanted to increase land prices, ensure “good” land for businesses and higher income for businessmen.
Ranariddh will take a seat in Kampong Cham, where former CNRP leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy were lawmakers.
The two smaller parties, the CNP and KEDP, vowed to fulfil their parliamentary roles, but had little to say about their platform.
Huon Reach Chamroeun, president of KEDP and the incoming lawmaker for Kandal, said the party was joining parliament as an opposition party so that the “international community won’t accuse that the government has no opposition”.
Indeed observers have called the entire redistribution of the CNRP’s seats an effort to preserve the facade of democracy.
Yesterday Reach Chamroeun could list only one policy for which the party would advocate. “When we become the opposition, we have a strict policy to not allow protests and riots.”
Seng Sokheng, CNP president and incoming Kampong Cham parliamentarian, said his party would have a “middle stance”. “In my view, I don’t want to be called ‘opposition party’, but ‘the party outside the government’,” he said.
Sotheara Yoeurng, legal officer with election monitor Comfrel, said the “arbitrary” redistribution had disenfranchised the 3 million people who cast their votes for the CNRP in 2013 and that a process involving re-balloting would be preferable.