Visiting Thai General Tanasak Patimapragorn on Monday assured Cambodia that his country was stable despite a military coup in May, according to Defense Minister Tea Banh.
A government request to create a new province in the eastern half of Kompong Cham, where the ruling CPP won its only districts in the province in July’s national election, was approved by King Norodom Sihamoni last month, according to a copy of the Royal Decree obtained Thursday.
Officials in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP government said Thursday that other provinces will also be divided, a move that the political opposition said is an attempt to manipulate electoral boundaries to benefit the ruling party.
The country’s newest province, to be named Tbong Khmum, will be made up of six districts and a city that all lie east of the Mekong River in Kompong Cham, and will include the only five districts in which the CPP won majorities in the province during the election, according to the decree.
All of Kompong Cham’s remaining 12 districts were won by the opposition CNRP.
The CPP was beaten by the opposition in Kompong Cham at the July 28 election, winning just eight of the 18 available National Assembly seats, a loss of its majority of 12 seats won at the 2008 election.
The new province of Tbong Khmum will be made up of Dambe, Kroch Chhmar, O’Reang-ou, Ponhea Krek and Tbong Khmum districts—where the CPP won its only majorities—as well as Suong City and Memot district, says the decree, which is dated December 31.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the decision to split the province into two had been made to improve the provision of government services.
“We created this additional province to make it easier for us to control things, and in order to not be so far away from the people,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Sopheak denied that the creation of the new province was to benefit the ruling CPP, and said that plans are in place to split more provinces.
“For example, we split Banteay Meanchey from Battambang so that people could get better public services, and so it is closer to the people,” he said.
“In the future, we’ll do more splitting, but we don’t know which provinces yet.”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, however, said that the decision was suspicious and could be attributed to an effort to gerrymander votes.
“I don’t think this is for administrative purposes, this is to affect future elections,” Mr. Panha said. “They’re again setting up these new constituencies to impact the number of seats the parties will win.”
The CNRP won by a wide margin in every other district in Kompong Cham at the election, picking up 51.86 percent of the vote in the province to the CPP’s 42.86 percent.
If the official results of last year’s election released by the National Election Committee (NEC) were distributed over the two new provinces, the seven-district Tbong Khmum province would see the CPP win 51.75 percent of the vote there to the CNRP’s 42.10 percent.
In the new and reduced 10-district Kompong Cham province, the CNRP would win 59.17 percent of the vote to the CPP’s 35.43 percent.
“They do things like this in many provinces, where you create these constituencies to affect the outcomes of elections, but here the formula also accumulates more seats to the winner of the province,” Mr. Panha explained.
The NEC revealed shortly after the 1998 national election that Cambodia had begun using a formula to distribute National Assembly seats that tends to award the majority-winning party in a province more seats than it would otherwise win under a basic proportional system.
“It is very concerning politically, this kind of decision [to split a province in two], and that’s why they should have done some kind of consultation with the political parties before doing it,” Mr. Panha said.
Kem Sokha, vice president of the opposition CNRP and a lawmaker-elect for Kompong Cham province, said that the decision to split the province into two stemmed from the government’s need to tighten its grip on the population rather than from an effort to gerrymander.
“It is not a question of there being more or less of our supporters in that area,” he said. “The fact is, the CPP cannot control the people there.”
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