Future Forum Says Electoral Formula Favors Big Political Parties

In 2013, for the first time in its history, Funcinpec failed to capture a single National Assembly seat.

Though pundits at the time said the loss was a nail in the coffin for the royalist party, a paper published on Monday by political analyst Ou Virak’s Future Forum think tank credits the loss to a quirk in electoral math.

Funcinpec would have won five seats if the government used the allocation formula it abandoned after the 1993 general elections, the paper says, arguing that the “highest average” formula adopted in 1997 and used ever since favors large parties at the expense of small ones.

“Smarter individuals know full well that there’s not a chance of winning any seats, so why would you start a political party?” Mr. Virak said on Monday. By returning to the old system, “politics would be a lot more vibrant, and it could be a lot more representative.”

Cambodia uses a proportional representation system with two steps. In the first step, parties must clear a threshold of votes to win a seat. If “Imaginary Province” had 100,000 votes and five lawmaker seats, for example, a seat there is worth 20,000 votes. So “Party A,” which won 12,000 votes, would not necessarily win a seat, while “Party B,” which won 28,000 votes, would take one, and “Party C,” which won 60,000, would take three.

The difference between the two systems hinges on the second step, and how they divvy up any seats not distributed in the first. Under the old, “largest remainder” system, all that a small party had to do to win any leftover seats was to have more remaining votes than any other party. Party A would secure the one remaining seat since its 12,000 votes edge out B’s 8,000 outstanding votes and C’s zero.

The new system, however, allocates any additional seats based on how many seats parties won in step one, handing Party C the leftover seat.

In its 2012 commune election report, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections said this formula “favor[ed] the CPP and disfavored other contesting parties.”

Hang Puthea, spokesman for the National Election Committee, said the formula could only be altered with fresh legislation—an unlikely prospect given the ruling party’s control of Parliament.

Yeng Virak, head of the Grassroots Democracy Party, was still optimistic that “small parties can win more seats” by focusing their efforts and success in specific provinces.

But Mr. Virak of Future Forum doubted any minor party would claim a seat in next year’s national election, which could determine the future of Cambodian democracy.

“A two-party race could polarize Cambodia,” he predicted.

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