Roughly half the number of parties are expected to run in the upcoming national elections as did in 2008, according to the National Election Committee secretary-general.
The 15-day party registration period kicks off today, but only “six or seven” parties are expected to throw their hats in the ring, Tep Nytha said.
Should Nytha’s prediction prove correct, it would continue a steady dip in the number of parties registered over the past decade. During the 2003 elections, 23 parties ran. In 2008, 12 registered, and 11 were approved.
Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said the drop in party registration reflected increasing frustration over a winner-takes-all electoral formula that favours large parties.
That formula, introduced by the ruling party government prior to the 1998 election, overturned an UNTAC election law that some historians have maintained was an attempt to flood the election with small parties, thus disrupting the Cambodian People Party’s grip.
“The Big-Five, apparently expecting a much stronger showing by the CPP than by its tripartite enemies, hoped to weaken the post-election government with a multiplicity of small parties even if this meant ‘discrediting the whole parliamentary system’,” Michael Vickery argued in his 2007 book Cambodia: A Political Survey.
But the replacement formula, Comfrel’s Panha said, has diluted representation.
“For example, [in the last election] the [Human Rights Party] got more than six per cent of the vote but only three seats. So this kind of formula has proven difficult to engage small parties.”
At the same time, noted Panha, the cost of registration has crept up from 10 million riel (about $2,500) in 2008 to 15 million this year. That fee is a deposit but is only refundable should the party win a seat.
Blocked from the media, hampered by a lack of state funding, and virtually powerless to mobilise against well-oiled party machines, the smallest parties are being increasingly squeezed out, Panha said.
All of which, he said, reflects the larger problems inherent in the National Assembly’s internal rules that permit parties to speak only if they hold 10 or more seats.
“There’s a lack of diversity of voices,” he said. Because voters can’t select individual candidates, “there’s so much party control. If you speak differently from the party, you can be pushed out.”
Nytha, for his part, ascribed the dip to nothing more than consolidation of parties – noting that several had merged in the past five years.
The two royalist parties and two opposition parties both merged in 2012, following years of fits and starts. In both cases, the mergers appeared likely to shore up their grip in the National Assembly come July. Of 123 seats, royalists hold a total of four, while opposition parties hold 29. Should the latter hit 30 come July, they’ll be in a position to propose motions of censure, according to the constitution.
When registration opens today, however, it is not clear they will even list. Asked yesterday about their position, SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party had not yet decided whether they would register.
“We still have time to think about that. What we do now is not focus on registration. Instead of thinking about the candidate list, we focus on one more demonstration [against the NEC regulations],” he said.
On Friday, a day after the party’s large-scale rally for reform of the voter list, the NEC rejected its requests, saying it had already considered and ruled on them numerous times.
“What the [CNRP] continues to do is within their rights, but the decision of NEC is the right of NEC,” Nytha said yesterday.
Both the CPP and Funcinpec, meanwhile, said they were finalising their lists and would register in the coming days.
“We reserved 70 people as the old candidates and another 53 as new candidates in our party list for July’s parliamentary election,” said Ork Kimhan, CPP cabinet chief. “And I would not be able to identify exactly, but at least 10 candidates are children of senior CPP’s leadership.”
Declining to give details on their list, Funcinpec spokesman Tum Sambol said they too were preparing to list.
“I am not sure what day we will be able to go for registering the party, but we are ready.”
Additional reporting by Meas Sokchea