Electoral Reform Talks Stuck On Issue of Assembly Seats

The CPP and CNRP again returned to the issue of the number of National Assembly seats in their twice-weekly reform talks on Friday, but appeared to be further apart than ever, with the ruling party demanding that parliament continue to have 123 seats “forever.”

“The opinions on the determination of seats were…not the same,” Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, head of the CPP’s delegation in the talks, told reporters following the closed-door meeting. 

“The CPP’s position, like I have said in the past, is that we want to settle the argument that occurs each mandate over the matter of whether or not the seats should be increased,” Mr. Chhin said.

“Now we have decided the seats shall stay at 123 forever,” he added, referring to the CPP’s demand that the number be enshrined in the new election law. “If someday [somebody] wants to change it, let them amend the law.”

And despite the parties agreeing in December to allow migrant laborers to vote in where they work—a move that Mr. Chinn said at the time would lead to more seats in Phnom Penh—the deputy prime minister said Friday that the CPP wanted to keep the number of seats in each constituency the same.

The only change to the seat allocation from the 2013 election, he said, would be to move eight of the 18 seats in Kompong Cham province to the newly created Tbong Khmum province.

The current election law includes a formula to determine seats in parliament based on the voting populations of each constituency, but the number of National Assembly seats has remained the same since the 2003 national election.

Senior CNRP official Kuoy Bun­roeun, head of the opposition delegation in the talks, said the opposition was still demanding that the new election law require regular reviews of the number of Assembly seats.

“Regarding the matter of seats, we have discussed a lot but there is no joint agreement yet because the CPP wants to keep the same number of 123,” he said. “But the CNRP wants to keep the existing formula to use as a basic foundation for determining the number of seats as the population is increasing.”

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that applying the existing formula for seat allocation would not be practical, as it would require adding about 70 new seats.

But Mr. Panha said that coming up with a new mechanism for determining the number and distribution of National Assembly seats was essential, adding that the CPP’s attempt to maintain the current number of seats was based on a “political interest calculation.”

“If you completely change from the possibility of increasing seats to a fixed number, that will impact the role of the National Assembly.”

Mr. Panha said as the government and population grow, it was crucial to have enough lawmakers to provide a check on the executive and represent their constituencies. He added that expanding parliament by a few seats for the next election could create a greater balance of power in provinces that currently have one seat.

“By making sure there are some checks and balances in each constituency, you can make a better political balance,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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