Pressure Riding High Over Formula Snafu

Opposition members on Mon­day scrambled to prove their side of a controversy over the distribution of parliament seats, as Na­tional Election Committee members stuck to an explanation used in a Saturday press conference.  

In addition, opposition leaders Monday complained to UN Sec­retary-General Kofi Annan, officials searched for proof of which of two formulas was described in a December parliamentary session, and election watchdogs kept waiting for the NEC to disclose minutes from a May meeting.

Deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy warned in a Monday letter to Kofi Annan that “no coalition government can be formed until the legal formula for seat allocation is implemented.”

A critical swing of five National Assembly seats between the CPP and the opposition is at stake in the controversy, which erupted four days after the July 26 polls when the NEC informed opposition parties and election watchdogs they were using the wrong formula to allocate seats.

NEC officials have maintained that a decision was reached in late May to approve the formula. But the formula approved differs from one included in a May 6 draft of election regulations and in a May 25 Khmer-language copy of election regulations that was not marked as a draft.

On Saturday, the NEC said the formula never changed, but an incorrect example was published.

“The formula in use is still the same as the one before [May 29],” Do Kong Nguon, a citizen ap­pointee to the NEC, said Mon­day. “A meeting on May 29 did not discuss any change in the seat allocation formula.”

The Sam Rainsy Party, meanwhile, said in a Monday statement that an “alleged letter signed on May 29 by [NEC Chairman] Chheng Phon approving a changed formula appears to have disappeared from the scene.”

The NEC has yet to disclose minutes showing its members voted to approve the formula.

“The NEC’s new line of de­fense is to claim there has been no change in the formula at all, and therefore no meeting was necessary,” the Sam Rainsy Party statement said.

Theo Noel, a senior technical adviser to the NEC, said Saturday the only change after May 6 was a correction to an “example” used to de­monstrate the formula. It had been incorrectly printed in the May 6 draft, he explained. Political parties, election watchdogs and journalists “have not been willing to listen” to NEC efforts to clarify the “mistake,” he said.

Noel said he alone discovered the mistake in the May 6 draft while Chhay Kim, NEC treasurer, said Sunday he showed Noel the second formula from a textbook in late May. NEC legal ad­viser Sik Bun Hok on Saturday said 10 NEC members at a May meeting were told of the correction.

Than Sina, secretary-general for the National Assembly, on Monday was still looking for minutes or audiotapes from a Dec 17, 1997, parliamentary session in which one of two formulas may have been explained, and perhaps voted into law.

Koul Panha, chief of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elec­tions, said his letter to the NEC asking to see the minutes has gone unanswered. “Yeah, they should explain why they ap­proved the second one,” he said. “It is very serious….Formulas are both political and technical, you should be careful.”

(Reporting by Touch Rotha, Marc Levy and Chris Decherd)





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