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Jury still out on one-party parliament for Kingdom

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Members of parliament vote on amendments to election laws at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh in 2017. AFP

Jury still out on one-party parliament for Kingdom

With the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claiming it has won all 125 seats in the National Assembly, will it accept the chamber being referred to as a “single-party parliament” if the preliminary results of the July 29 national elections due on Saturday prove it right?

Former opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy who lives in France, claimed on Monday that Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered National Election Committee (NEC) chairman Sik Bun Hok to allow some smaller parties – Funcinpec and the League for Democracy Party (LDP) – to take some seats so as to avoid having such a legislative.

NEC deputy secretary-general Som Sorida rejected Rainsy’s claims, saying the NEC abides by the election law and so could not manipulate the division of seats in the National Assembly.

“Sam Rainsy is quicker than the NEC! But the NEC must follow the agenda as marked out in our calendar,” Sorida said.

He said the NEC was an independent body as stated in the Cambodian Constitution and so was bound by law. He said when elections were conducted correctly, and with fairness and transparency, the make-up of the National Assembly was totally dependent on its results.

“The NEC cannot do anything that does not come under the law. So the NEC cannot mark out or divide seats in parliament. The NEC doesn’t have the authority to do this,” he said.

CPP spokesperson Suos Yara said on Tuesday that he could not confirm if his party had indeed won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. “We are waiting for the results from the NEC, so without its announcement, I dare not [comment],” he said.

Asked if the CPP would be happy with a single-party parliament, he said the elections were held under a multi-party system, so the people had expressed their support for the parties that contested.

“Democracy doesn’t need other people to label what it is. Democracy just needs the voice of the people. If the majority votes for a party, that party will lead. What any individual says [after this] is only opinion,” he said.

Funcinpec, the party that received the second highest number of votes according to the first preliminary results after polling ended, could not be reached.

The LDP, which garnered the next best outcome, said the party was waiting on the results from the NEC.

LDP secretary-general Chen Thon said his party received only 47 per cent of the results from its agents. So at this juncture, he said, his party could not estimate whether it had won any seats.

On whether the LDP would get some seats by way of a political compromise, he said the LDP wouldn’t accept one even if it were offered.

“If there was something like that, the party will not go down that route. We need only fairness. We will accept whatever the result is. If we win a seat, we will have done so according to the [democratic] realities,” Thon said.

Political analyst Em Sovannara expressed his belief that the CPP wanted all the seats it could get, and it would argue they were won by the popular vote.

But at the same time, he said the CPP may not want the National Assembly to be seen as a single-party parliament as in communist countries. If this was the case, he said, there were ways to prevent such an outcome.

“The election law cannot be amended [for now], but there is a way to allow other parties to have seats. The CPP can reject a seat in Preah Sihanouk province, for example, by withdrawing its candidate. So the seat would then be taken by another party,” he said.

“Also, the remaining votes of the ruling party can be given to a smaller party if the CPP wants other parties to take part in parliament. And there can be other ways too,” he said without further elaboration.

Sovanara said a single-party parliament through multi-party elections was democratic but it was “not colourful”, and this perspective may push the CPP to consider having other parties make up parliament.

However, professor of political science So Chantha took the opposite view. He said based on the preliminary results, the CPP would win all 125 seats and it would “definitely take up all of them”.

He said because of legal barriers, allocating seats to other parties was difficult.

“I think if it is difficult to allocate [seats], a single-party parliament is the last resort – as in [Norodom Sihanouk’s] Sangkum Reastr Niyum [of the 1950s and 60s], or [Lon Nol’s] Khmer Republic.

“Based on the political context, I think it would be possible to represent a multiparty democracy in [such a] parliament but it would be worthless,” he said.

Lao Mong Hay, another political analyst, said although the coming parliament would likely be single-party, pluralism was not dead if the results of the recent elections truly reflected the free will of the Cambodian people.

“It is, in fact, a golden opportunity for our prime minister to prove himself to be a benevolent dictator like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.

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