Electoral System Worked in Favor of United Opposition

When Information Minister Khieu Kanharith posted the preliminary results of the national election on his Facebook page Sunday night, the numbers showed a striking 17.7 percent drop in the seats held by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) from 90 to 68 in the 123-seat National Assembly.

The more detailed results re­leased later Sunday night, however, told a slightly different story, with the ruling party’s vote dropping from 58.1 percent of total ballots cast to 49.2 percent—a comparatively less dra­matic drop of 8.9 percentage points.

The difference between the two numbers was a testament to the fruits born by a united opposition party—and to the formula used to allocate seats to political parties.

The Jefferson formula, introduced quietly prior to the 1998 election—and publicized only after that year’s vote—favors the party that receives the largest vote in a province. The number of seats allocated in a particular province is divided by the number of voters. But any votes left over for the final seat will often go to the party that came away with the most votes.

Before 1998, a formula had been put in place by the U.N. that was instead designed to encourage multi-party results within provinces.

Thun Saray, chairman of the Committee for Free and Fair Elec­tions in Cambodia’s (Comfrel) board of directors, said shortly after the 1998 election that the new formula had allowed the CPP to win six more seats than it would have won under the formula used in 1993.

“The CPP are very clever you see, they know the opposition is divided and they are the biggest party and will use the formula to favor them,” he said in August 1998.

And so it would be over the following decade.

In 2003, the CPP won 47.3 percent of the popular vote, but won 73 seats—or 59 percent—of the 123 seats available.

In 2008, the Sam Rainsy and Hu­man Rights parties managed to claim a combined 28.5 percent of the vote but only won 29 seats—or 23.6 percent—of the 123 seats available.

The CPP, picking up seats leaked from the opposition and by other smaller parties that year, won its 73.2 percent of seats from only 58.1 percent of the vote.

On Sunday, however, taking the results released by Mr. Kanharith and the National Counter-Terror­ism Committee Sunday night, the united Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 44.2 percent of the vote and managed to claim 44.7 percent of the seats available.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said Monday that the opposition had managed to gain so many seats because it had finally realized the advantages of running as a single, larger party.

“The change of the formula [in 1998] was political and intended to help the party which wins a lot votes,” Mr. Panha said. “It was to make it easy for the winner to run the country.”

“UNTAC had used a formula to have many parties gain seats in Par­liament, and it made it harder for the wining party to run the country.”

Mr. Panha added that as a result of the change made in 1998, the larger a party was compared to its competitors, the more likely it was to gain additional seats.

“The combination of the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties has now decreased the number of seats won by the CPP—if the parties were still divided, they would not have gotten this result.”

CNRP spokesman Son Chhay said that while his party still planned to challenge the results of the election, the opposition’s united size had helped it pick up seats it had previously leaked.

“The opposition might this time benefit from this formula because we won many big provinces,” he said. “But when the CPP controls the elections, they can also use it to win extra seats.”

“It should change back to the U.N. formula,” Mr. Chhay added. “It should reflect the vote that people want to give when they cast their vote; it should be divided accordingly.”

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.