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National Assembly seat allocation distorted: think tank

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Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Hun Sen in July of 2014 after emerging from a meeting in which both parties agreed to change the country's election law. Heng Chivoan

National Assembly seat allocation distorted: think tank

The number of National Assembly seats for the 2018 elections does not match the size of the population in several provinces, leading to a distorted representation of votes, a new assessment by the think tank Future Forum shows.

Barring one instance, when Preah Sihanouk province had two seats added as part of a one-time political deal, the number of parliamentary seats has not been changed since 1998.

However, population growth has been much more rapid in some parts of the Kingdom than others – something that needs to be represented in terms of seat allocation, the report argues.

The report suggests that Phnom Penh, for example, should have 15 seats instead of the allocated 12. Battambang should have 10 instead of eight, it adds, and Siem Reap should have nine instead of six. The report also argues for a decrease in seats for those provinces that are overrepresented, such as Kampong Cham, which it argues should lose four seats, for a total of 14.

The Election Law had previously set out a formula to calculate periodic seat adjustments and a committee meant to evaluate the number of seats – though that process has never been fully carried out.

Those articles were gutted, however, in a bipartisan overhaul of the Election Law as part of the political deal that ended the opposition’s yearlong boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 elections.

Future Forum founder Ou Virak said the removal of those provisions “had no rationale”, something he hoped parliamentarians would see and rectify.

“We’re trying to look at the rationale and put it on the table, and hope that the lawmakers look at it,” he added.

Cambodia National Rescue Party officials yesterday agreed with the report’s call for adjustments despite having unanimously voted for the amendment that scrapped them.

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said in an email that the reason for the unequal representation was that the “CPP is afraid of the young and more educated or more social conscious people” who had contributed to population growth in some cities, and feared adding votes in those areas.

“The CPP has always adamantly refused to implement that rule since 1998. But the CNRP will reintroduce it in 2018,” he said.

CNRP lawmaker Eng Chay Eang, meanwhile, said that the party had only agreed to the 2015 amendment, because “there was no implementation [of the formula] and we could not keep it”, adding that sometimes concessions had to be made.

But ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Suos Yara said there were no plans to alter the rules, and that while the Future Forum could argue for an amendment under the umbrella of freedom of expression, “to change [it] is a matter for the National Assembly”.

Asked whether the CPP would approve such an amendment if proposed, he replied that “it’s not on our agenda”.

Hang Puthea, spokesman of the National Election Committee (NEC), said that this issue was not in the NEC’s authority. “We just wait for information from the government,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an email yesterday that the unequal representation was “very worrisome”, even if it did not necessarily favour one party or another.

“Whoever came up with [this] idea is guilty of democratic incompetence, because allocating seats in a parliament without a formula is like driving a car without a wheel.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTNG BY MECH DARA

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