Critics Press on as Minutes Withheld
Amid mounting pressure, the National Election Committee dug in its heels Saturday, arguing that it never changed the formula to allocate seats in the National Assembly.
The NEC claimed at a press conference and in a statement the final formula merely corrected a “mathematical mistake” in a draft of election regulations not meant to be circulated publicly.
The electoral body also continued to refuse to disclose minutes to a May 28 meeting at which NEC officials have previously said a decision was reached to revise the formula included in a May 6 draft of election regulations.
“The formula was never changed,” Theo Noel, a Canadian senior technical adviser to the NEC, maintained in an NEC statement released Sunday. “The only thing changed was the example in the draft, because there were some mistakes….A draft is a draft….”
A critical swing of five National Assembly seats is at issue in the controversy, which erupted four days after the July 26 polls. Depending on the formula used, either the CPP will garner a majority in the parliament or the National United Front, led by Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, will have it.
Several election watchers said Sunday they don’t buy the NEC’s newest explanation and pledged to continue pushing until the NEC clearly addresses the issue.
“That’s not true, there’s no mathematical mistake in the [original] formula,” said Peter Schier, country representative for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a democracy-building group. “For sure, the formula has changed.”
Opposition candidate Sam Rainsy, whose party has drafted a “white paper” on the seat allocation controversy, concurred.
“It is not the example that changed, it is the formula that changed,” Sam Rainsy said Sunday evening. “It proves the NEC is very embarrassed by the issue and they don’t know how to get out of it. Each time, they make their case worse.”
NEC Treasurer Chhay Kim on Sunday defended the NEC’s handling of the seat allocation method, and asserted there are no grounds for opposition complaints.
“There has been no change since the National Assembly adopted the electoral law [in December 1997],” Chhay Kim said.
He added, “There was no change in the formula, only a small change in the draft.”
A review of documents shows that the original formula in a May 6 draft of the NEC regulations made no mention of it being just an “example.”
Furthermore, the original formula also appeared in a May 25 Khmer-language copy of the NEC regulations that wasn’t labeled a draft.
The Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia also has called on the NEC to show the modified formula was amended legally.
Despite repeated requests by opposition parties and journalists, the NEC has yet to produce minutes showing that its members approved the final formula in accordance with NEC by-laws.
Sik Bun Hok, the NEC’s legal adviser, said Saturday that the NEC will not provide the minutes unless ordered to do so by the nation’s highest legal body, the Constitutional Council.
Until four days after the July 26 polls, few people were aware of the change or its significance.
Under the first formula, the CPP would have won only 59 seats in the 122-seat National Assembly, while Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy would have won a combined 62 seats.
Under the revised formula, the CPP would win 64 seats.
The formulas are used to allocate parliament seats in Cambodia’s 23 constituencies.
The electoral law passed by the National Assembly didn’t specify the exact formula to be used. But it called for the “greatest average” to be used to allocate fractions of seats. Political experts agree there are several formulas that fit the definition of greatest average.
NEC officials have been suggesting the formula agreed upon was called d’Hondt and the draft formula was an incorrect version.
But, in fact, the draft formula is a legitimate, shortened version of d’Hondt called Balinski/Young, created in 1975.
Sam Rainsy claimed Sunday evening that this is the version that was tacitly agreed upon by lawmakers in December 1997. Assembly minutes weren’t immediately available Sunday.
The version that emerged May 29 is a separate formula called the Jefferson formula, created in 1792. While it yields the same results as pure d’Hondt, its mathematical steps are far more complicated.
Both Balinski and Jefferson are considered “democratic” formulas. But compared with the formula used during the UN-brokered 1993 elections, both favor big parties, especially Jefferson.
To show how the Jefferson formula favors the winning party, the CPP theoretically should win only 1.87 seats of the four seats in Kompong Chhnang province based on 46.63 percent of the popular vote.
Under Balinski, the CPP picks up a second seat. Under Jefferson, the CPP wins a third seat—or 75 percent of the four provincial seats. The Balinski formula was designed to prevent that from happening.
Under Balinski, CPP wins 48.36 percent of the seats with 41.42 percent of the popular vote. Under Jefferson, the CPP wins 52.46 percent of the seats.
What remains unclear is whether there was a conscious effort by anyone within the NEC to change the formula to benefit the CPP, the pre-election favorite.
Chhay Kim said Sunday he showed Noel the Jefferson formula from a textbook in late May.
“But I have no power to order [him] to change the formula,” Chhay Kim said. “I only gave him the book and document.”
Noel declined to comment beyond the Saturday statement.
While many parties and observer groups were unaware of the revised formula, the CPP was obviously aware. Just one night after the elections, the CPP declared it had won an absolute majority of seats.
In Chhum Lim, secretary of state of the Interior and a member of the CPP’s seven-member permanent committee, explained the new formula in detail on the Saturday after the elections.
He defended the new formula as helping create more political stability through the consolidation of power by big parties.
Schier said that is an argument that could have been brought up and debated in late May. But, he noted, the NEC didn’t even publicize the change. “It has nothing to do with promoting one party or another,” Schier said Sunday.
“It‘s a question of principle. [The seat allocation system] is one of the basics of an electoral system. How can they make a change without announcing it?”
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann, Marc Levy and Chris Decherd)