Interesting poll research on voter interaction with elected members of Parliament conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) can further illuminate the findings cited in your January 27, 2010 article “Few voters ever meet their local MPs: report”.
In IRI’s August 2007 survey of Cambodian public opinion, 14 percent of respondents (19 percent of men and 8 percent of women) reported having at some point seen or met one of their MPs.
The vast majority (approximately 75 percent) of those who had seen or met one of their MPs reported it had occurred at a public forum organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights or at a constituency dialogue organised by the National Democratic Institute.
However, the same poll found that approximately 58 percent of Cambodians were interested in communicating with their MP (with 24 percent saying they were very interested in doing so).
Clearly, Cambodian citizens demand more interaction with their MPs. But why is this political opportunity not being exploited by enterprising, ambitious MPs (or aspiring MPs)?
One explanation offered by your article is that MPs may have too much work to meet with the people who elect them to office.
Another possible reason cited was “a failure by political parties to communicate effectively with voters”.
Instead, I think the reason for low reported interaction with voters is that there is little incentive for an individual MP to do so.
The same IRI poll cited above found that respondents from more populated provinces were less likely to have seen an MP.
At first this seems odd, because provinces with higher population have more MPs to go around, and provinces with lower population tend to be farthest away from Phnom Penh, where MPs spend much time working in the National Assembly.
But when you look at the institutional incentives facing an individual MP, it is clear why MPs from small (and usually remote) provinces spend more time visiting their constituents.
Consider how MPs are elected. First, they are placed and ranked on a party list in a closed process.
On Election Day, voters choose among several parties, not among individual candidates.
A formula determines how many seats a party is awarded in each province, proportionate to the share of votes that party received in the province.
Then from each province, individuals on the party list are seated in the National Assembly if they are ranked highly enough on the party list.
The individual can later be removed from the National Assembly at the discretion of the party, as the party itself owns the seat.
If an MP is elected from a single-seat province, he or she alone will gain the political benefit from communicating more with his or her constituents.
But if an MP from a large province like Kampong Cham or Phnom Penh invests time communicating with voters, the political benefit will be disbursed among other fellow MPs representing that province.
Instead of wishing for harder-working politicians and better-spoken parties, reward MPs directly for contacting voters.
The incentives can be changed by instituting a broad-based primary election to determine who is nominated by parties as candidates, allowing voters to select between individuals rather than parties, and creating single-member electoral districts.
Resident country director
International Republican Institute
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