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Election Formula, Disunity Bucked Change

Vote-for-vote, nearly half the Cambodians who cast a ballot in July's election sought to change the ruling party. But the lack of a unified opposing party meant that an election formula enacted since 1998 was against them.

About 42 percent voted for non-ruling parties, leaving the Cambodian People's Party with 58 percent of the ballots. But the CPP ended the election with an estimated 90 seats, with only 33 going to four other parties.

"The number of votes split into small parties is like throwing [votes] into the trash," said Thun Saray, president of Adhoc and head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. "The formula gives the remaining seats to the big parties."

While the CPP earned 58 percent of the votes, it gained 70 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, he said. The Human Rights Party, however, earned 6 percent of votes, but three seats. And any party with less than 4 percent of the votes was cast aside.

The formula surprised voters, who saw the opposition earn just under half of the votes but nearly three times fewer seats than the ruling party, he said.

"I think the Untac formula was better, because we are talking plural democracy," he said.

The formula was changed by CPP and Funcinpec following the 1998 election.

However, even with the current formula, had smaller parties joined into one ahead of the election, they could have pulled out more seats. With 42 percent of the votes with one party, about 40 seats would have been won, with the CPP earning about 70, and the remaining going to the highest average.

National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nitha said it was too early to comment on election law and seat allocation.

Meanwhile, Thun Saray said in order for a coalition to be effective, to affect change, they must form before an election, not after. Some Cambodians did not vote because they expected no change in July's election, he said.

A firm coalition with a clear candidate for premier was also necessary, he said.

Ex-SRP lawmaker Khem Veasna said he left the party ahead of the election because there was "no light of unity."

Kem Sokha, leader of the Human Rights Party, said the opposition had lost the election because too many irregularities overcame a climate for change that was not yet ripe.

"If we had united, the formula would benefit us as well," he said. "The Human Rights Party demanded unification before the election, and so did the Norodom Ranariddh Party. Except the Sam Rainsy Party. If the Sam Rainsy Party had had the same will, I think it would have become true."

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the main obstacle had not been unity, but unfair proceedings.

But CPP lawmaker Chiem Yeap said the overwhelming support of voters for the CPP found its way to the polls, no matter the formula or the coalition.

The opposition parties suffered because of their "tricky behavior," he said. "I think they won't beat the CPP for two or three elections to come. The CPP's political agenda is too close to the people."