Saturday, August 23, 2008

Another Look at the Election

I recently read an article on the disproportion of the number of votes cast for the ruling party and the number of seats they will get. Let’s look at the rough numbers. About 58% voted for the CPP and 42% voted for the opposition parties. The CPP will get an estimated 90 seats or 73% of the assembly seats, only 33 or 27% of all seats will go to four other parties. There seems to be a glaring imbalance as the author of that piece I read seemed to imply (if I remember correctly).

But that opinion would leave out any consideration of the electoral system in place. Cambodia uses the proportionate system for allocating assembly seats by party lists. In that system the number of seats won may not correspond to the share of the overall vote. Here is why: each voting district is allocated a certain number of seats, a few even with only one seat although that district has only a small population, say a hundred. In this case the party with the majority of votes gets the seat. Fortunately, there are only a handful of those districts.

In very populous districts such as Kompong Cham the parties will be allocated seats in line with their share of the popular vote. In many cases there will be a small number of seats left over (‘overhangs’) that will be allocated by the system of the highest average a party received.

Let's take Kompong Cham:

CPP : 409 766 / 51,28%
SRP : 211 934 / 26,52%
HRP : 72 725 / 9,10

There are 18 seats for the district, 9 of which will go to the CPP, 4 will go to the SRP, and 1 will go to the HRP, which is a total of 14 with 4 seats to be assigned according the principle of the highest average (d’Hondt system).

CPP quotient = 40,977
SRP quotient = 42,387
HRP quotient = 36,362

So the next seat will go to the SRP. The following quotients will look like this:

CPP = 40.977
SRP = 35,322
HRP = 36,362

Accordingly, the following seat will go to the CPP.

CPP = 37, 251
SRP = 35,322
HRP = 36,362

The next seat will go to the CPP.

CPP = 34, 148
SRP = 35,322
HRP = 36,322

So this last seat will go to the HRP, which brings the total seats won by each party in Kompong Cham to:

CPP = 11 seats = 61.1% of the seats
SRP = 5 seats = 27.8% of the seats
HRP = 2 seats = 11.1% of the seats

The more votes a party gets the greater will be the highest average, in other words, this system favors the bigger parties.

This is an electoral system used in many democracies in one form or another, either as a stand-alone system or in combination with another system.

The U. S. has a two-party system with a clear winner-takes-it-all formula, so it is straight-forward but can also lead to results which do not reflect the popular vote, especially with their Electoral College in the presidential elections. People vote for candidates, not for parties.

The British have the same system (without the Electoral College) but basically a three-party system. The winning candidate might actually have only won a minority of the votes. People also vote only for candidates and not parties

The French have, in my view, the best system, albeit very expensive. There a candidate must reach a clear absolute majority, that is 50%+1, to win. France boasts of a multitude of parties, all of them fielding candidates. If no candidate reaches the 50%+1, there are run-off elections between the first and second candidates.

Germany has a very complicated mix of systems where people vote for both a direct candidate by majority vote and a party list, which is then allocated seats according to the d’Hondt system. So people actually have two votes.

So if you want to go to the trouble of figuring out how the CPP won more seats than their share of the votes you can do this by following the formula:

Seats by share of vote + overhanging seats assigned by formula below

Total votes for the party / ( number of original seats assigned according to share of votes + 1 ) = quotient.

But you can rest assured there is nothing wrong with the distribution of the seats per party according to the published election results.

That does not, however, in any way say anything about the claim of the opposition that the election as such was fraudulent. The fact that the NEC did not publish its reasons for their clear and very quick dismissal of the SRP’s complaints is very troublesome and might lead neutral observers to believe that there actually weren’t any real legal arguments but that the whole affair will be resolved behind closed doors. That, of course, leaves a very bitter taste and reflects very badly on the CPP.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Opposition Parties’ Complaints to the UN and EU

Now this strikes me as somewhat weird. Why would the opposition front lodge their complaints with the UN and the EU?

Sure, both the UN and the EU sent observers to see whether the electoral process went according to democratic norms and standards; but that’s all they were – observers. And it is absolute news to me that they would have some jurisdiction over Cambodian elections.

We read that the NEC roundly dismissed all complaints, which doesn’t seem to be too much in compliance with their charter. One would believe an investigation would at least take a couple of months. So something is foul in the state Denmark, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

It appears as though the whole state apparatus now deals with Sam Rainsy and his followers as bothersome gnats rather than serious opponents, which must enrage someone like Sam Rainsy who thinks of himself as the only person capable of building a new Cambodia and far superior to anybody else in the country. This most likely only strengthens his determination to boycott the opening session of the National Assembly. And this probably also accounts for his reaching actions such as the complaint to the UN and EU. He is only making a nuisance of himself, nothing else. It is rather sad, really. If he believes this is publicity in the Western world, he is greatly mistaken. Just read the world press. There is hardly ever any mention of Cambodia to begin with, let alone his complaints about rigged elections, whether substantive or not. Look how much press coverage the far more serious Zimbabwan situation got. This is yesterday’s news.

If he wants to achieve at least some progress with his agenda, Sam Rainsy must learn to work within the system.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


There I was writing about world leaders shunning the King when the Chinese news agency published this photo.

So, I apologize, Your Majesty. But that official celebration still is an injudicious act. A nice telegram and a personal message and a visit by your father would be more than enough. You have to know where your good friends are. In the picture you are shaking the hands of one of them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Odd Royals

Just so we would know for sure there is something wrong with the royal family, the King has now ordered a planning committee to prepare for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of, yes it is true, North Korea.

I guess we all know that Sihanouk was a strange bed-fellow in his time with his seesaw politics that laid the breeding ground for the plight of his 'beloved children' – the Cambodian people.

But that his son now sees fit to honor a despotic regime, a pariah of the world, most aptly shows that something got lost along the way in the royal genetic line, as his half-brothers Ranariddh and Thomico have shown more than once with their past pronouncements.

No wonder nobody talks to him at the Olympic opening ceremony where he was sitting next to Laura and George Bush and Vladimir Putin. Not only is the PM shunned by world leaders, now it it is the King too. With this kind of official action he only underscores the reasons.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Boycott Is On

According to Sam Rainsy who held a press conference with the other losing parties on Friday, they will boycott the first session of the assembly on August 24, when all deputies are to be sworn in.

The reason given for their action is that the election was rigged, a sham, and that more than 1 million voters were disenfranchised, although they had previously claimed more than 2 million in Phnom Penh alone. Now which is it? They go on to say that the National Election Committee cannot be trusted as they are in the pockets of the CPP. The opposition parties did file their complaints there and even filed a complaint in court against several local commune chiefs for forgery.

Of course, anybody has a right to claim that there were irregularities, but they also need to come up with concrete evidence that can stand up in court. Yes, we know Cambodian courts are not independent and will do whatever the ruling party tells them. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it stand to reason for the opposition parties to follow proper procedures. Shouldn’t they follow democratic and legal principles in pursuing their claims? Shouldn’t they act in a way that clearly distinguishes them from the ruling party?

Now, of course, the question arises whether a boycott of the opening session follows democratic principles. In my opinion it does not. Real democrats fight back with democratic weapons, that is, with their votes, public statements, policy proposals, etc. To boycott the opening sessions deprives them of their right to occupy their seats as elected representatives of their constituents. The constitution, and mind you, I am no constitutional expert, provides for the swearing-in of all deputies. If some deputies forego that swearing-in they lose that seat, regardless of Ms Mochua’s announcement that they are not abandoning their seats through their boycott.

There is nothing in the constitution covering such an eventuality because nobody ever thought this would happen when the constitution was drafted with the help of legal experts from many democratic countries, including France, the U. K, other European countries, and the U. S. Because the history of modern democracy has shown that the elected representatives always take their seats and then move forward in parliamentary sessions. If corrections are to be made for irregularities the seats in question can be re-assigned to another party later. That happens all the time in other countries. There is also the possibility of holding by-elections in disputed districts.

This can all be done while the new assembly goes about its work and the new government takes over, never mind that it is still the same PM. The opposition’s plan for a boycott is utterly undemocratic and one can only say, ‘Shame on them!’

The opposition knows and has granted as much that the CPP has won a clear majority even taking into account a correction for irregularities. They published a so-called ‘Sensitivity Analysis’ which outlines a revised tally of votes. The CPP would have won 77 instead of 90 seats; Funcinpec’s would remain at 2.

The objective behind this appears to be to break the CPP’s 2/3-majority they would get if they get their 90 seats. As they had announced, the CPP and Funcinpec are planning to continue their coalition. But even 79 seats are just shy of a 2/3 majority. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. A 2/3-majority is definitely unhealthy in any democracy, the more so in an emerging democracy as in Cambodia. But the fact remains this needs to be done with truly democratic means. Preliminary results were published by the NEC this Saturday. The deadline for complaints is after 72 hours. Let’s hope the opposition parties come to their senses and abandon their destructive boycott.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

One Way to Help

I have recently become involved with a project a very energetic Dutch gentleman started a few years back. Let me recount Philip’s story.

Some 20 years ago, Philip was a divorced and somewhat lonely man in Amsterdam, Holland. One day a Belgian friend of his told him he met a Cambodian refugee who needs some help as she was told to leave the refugee housing project. The Belgian government supported refugees only a limited time there, then they had to leave and make a life for themselves. The Cambodian woman by the name of Bopha and her little daughter had been there for a few months and did not really know what to do next. Fortunately, one of the people working there knew Philip.

Philip was sympathetic to their plight and had them stay with him. She could be his housekeeper. 9 months later they were married.

Why was she a refugee? The year was 1988. Bopha was the paymaster for a police regiment in Cambodia. Once the money had arrived from Phnom Penh her commander would ask her to his house to hand over the money so he could give it to his regiment. All payments at that time and most today are still made in cash. She refused knowing what would happen. The commander would just short-change the policemen under his command and keep a good portion for himself and his lieutenants. After she had refused this several times she found out that the commander had summoned his lieutenants to a secret meeting and the rumor was that they had put out a contract on her.

As it happened, Phnom Penh was looking for someone to accompany an Apsara dance group to Europe. It was customary to have a stalwart police or military officer accompany such cultural delegations in order to prevent defections. Bopha volunteered for that job.

Once the group had arrived in Belgium, however, the watchdog defected herself asking for political asylum. This is how Bopha came to be in Belgium and then live in Holland as Philip’s wife. A very fulfilling life at that; her own daughter just passed medical school exams and will work as an intern at a Duch hospital, their second daughter will graduate high school next year.

Philip was very much intrigued by the history of Cambodia and started to travel to the country in 1994. What he encountered there made him immediately want to do something to help. He gathered a few friends, and after telling them about the situation in Cambodia he collected a sizable amount of money from them.

With that and his own money he built a small school in the province. He continued that for a number of years building around 10 village schools. To his consternation, however, he found his efforts rather futile when he saw that some of the schools just stood there empty, as there were no teachers for the village’s children. They had all gone to the bigger cities where they could make more money. Teachers only used to make $10-15 a month. It is not a whole lot more these days either, by the way.

So he decided to start something that would teach the children skills they could use to make a living as adults. Since there are so many orphans in Cambodia he came up with the idea for an orphan farm.

He collected some more money in Holland and on his next visit to Cambodia he bought 20 ha of land to the north-west of Phnom Penh. His wife, with whom he now had another daughter in addition to his step-daughter, still had some family in Cambodia. One of her nephews was a medical doctor. They asked him to run the orphanage for them. They believed they would collect enough donations to pay for all expenses of the orphanage.

In the meantime, Philip had retired but, never resting in his efforts for the orphanage, started driving a taxi in Amsterdam. With the permission of his boss, he installed a small donation box in his cab asking for small contributions for the orphanage. Over the years this enabled him to expand the farm bit by bit. The objective is to make it self-sufficient not only in feeding the orphans and the staff but also to pay for new installations, the salaries for the adults by selling their produce and livestock. They raise cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, and geese.

Sometimes, they get help from young volunteers that come to Cambodia for a few months and teach the children English and tradecrafts. For their regular schooling the children attend the local village school. I think this is a well-rounded project. When you meet the children you can see the happiness and gratitude in their faces and their eyes. There is nothing more gratifying than this experience and I can only admire Philip for his seemingly endless energy and unwavering conviction in pursuing this project.

The results you can see in the pictures I am posting here. They were all taken just a month ago. You can see what strides this man has made over the years. He is 73 years old now. He is just a regular guy, but he can look back on a life full of achievements and fulfillment only few of us can similarly accomplish. He still drives a taxi in Holland so he can come to Cambodia 3 – 4 times a year to oversee and actively work in the orphanage. The money he makes as a taxi driver goes towards the rather expensive airline tickets. He sleeps in a traditional Khmer wooden house on stilts without air conditioning. The only thing he brings with him on those trips is his Dutch cheese and milk, something he can’t do without as a true Dutch burgher.

Please also visit their website at

If you want to help with donations you can find the relevant information on that website. Rest assured, this is no scam. The orphanage is a properly registered and recognized charity. Just recently one of the volunteers donated a solar panel to provide power for a refrigerator/freezer unit. Another recent donor paid for the purchase of propane gas stoves. They used to cook with charcoal, which produces harmful, health-threatening noxious fumes.

Ultimately, Philip wants the farm to be fully ecological (everything is organically grown). Additionally, with donations from a well-to-doctor in Holland and other donations he bought two more pieces of land in the provinces to start farms for the time when some of the children are ready to leave the orphanage. Altogether there are currently 45 children ranging in age from 5 to 17 at the farm. That number is set to increase to around 100 in the near future. So there is plenty to do. From a purely Dutch charity I would like to make this an international endeavor with your help. There are many orphanages in Cambodia run by foreigners, but few match the spirit and the result of the World Wide Children Farms.

Eating area



Organic farm

Water tower and animal section

Pig farm

New litter - one piglet fetches $45 - with volunteer from the UK.

Philip (in hat) with donors

Assembly Boycott – Continued

Here is an excerpt from the Cambodge Soir on the subject:

“Hun Sen also chastised Sam Rainsy. While talking about his altercation last Friday with the opposition leader, Hun Sen revealed that Sam Rainsy had asked him to guarantee for the SRP chairmen and vice-chairman positions for the National Assembly commissions. “Why did he make such a demand while he is also protesting the validity of the election?” said an irritated Hun Sen.”

Sam Raisny just continues to make a mockery of himself. Nothing else needs to be said.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Another Deadlock?

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read about the possibility that the SRP would boycott the swearing-in ceremony of the new government on Aug. 24. Obviously some ‘constitutional expert’ said this could create a deadlock as all members of parliament must be present. I don’t know about that. To my, admittedly layman’s, knowledge of the constitution all members of parliament must take an oath of office before being seated in the parliament. Like in most Western democracies the president of the parliament proposes an MP to the King to form a government. The Prime Minister chooses his ministers who then take an oath of office too. So why do we need the opposition to be present? They can voice their protest all they want. They can question the validity of the election. But they must use the proper channels and procedures.
In my view, they can even boycott the swearing-in ceremony, although this would cast some doubts on them in terms of their understanding of democracy too, wouldn’t it? And it won’t change a thing. It is a mere formality as the outcome of the elections is as clear-cut as can be, despite some irregularities of minor significance.

Doesn’t Sam Rainsy read the reports by the EU EOM and the U. S. mission in Cambodia? Does he live in another world, or what’s wrong with him?

Well, that ‘loser front’ caved in already. Funcinpec now published a statement that they will not question the validity of the election. So now it’s only three. Let’s just move on. I am sure Hun Sen will not tolerate another deadlock of one year. They have a 2/3 majority now. Beware Sam Rainsy!

Another personal observation; before the election I traveled almost 5,000 km crisscrossing the country on business. I visited mostly small villages from Koh Kong to Rattanakiri province. The CPP was present even in the most remote location you could only reach in a 4WD. The SRP and Ranarridh party were present in the larger towns but once you left the main roads, no sign of the candle or picture of Ranarridh, not to mention the Human Rights Party. So obviously those parties don’t think it’s worth traveling to the real needy people in the boondocks. Well, I am sure they all voted for the CPP.

P. S. Added on Aug. 04

There is a mistake in the above as it would involve the swearing-in of the deputies not the cabinet. So the scenario would be different but the outcome basically the same. If the SRP deputies do not take their seats they forfeit them. Either way the CPP will control the assembly.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Slanted Comments

There is this one blog on the web that always has the latest news about Cambodia. This being a blog, of course, they use their own headline to make their point. One recent example reads like this:

‘One in four voters lost their right to vote: Investigation’.

Then it goes on to the report issued by two exile Khmer organizations in France. The report sounds realistic in itself but these being died-in-the-wool nationalistic Khmer organizations they have a way of putting the inconclusive numbers at the top, and then in the final paragraph say they can’t extrapolate those numbers to the national level. Basically, the report is worthless, but in this day and age everybody who has something to say publishes it on the internet (including my own humble self).

It is just that some people, and KI-Media, the one I am talking about, is clearly in that group, use it to further their sometimes rather irrational notions of how Cambodia can become a better place. Their slanted headlines speak for themselves, and although it is a good source for the latest news, one should simply not read the headlines and the comments by readers. Those comments are mostly semi-literate anyway, and it seems like many of them were posted by hormone-driven adolescents who have too much time on their hands.

The blog is mostly directed at overseas Cambodians in the U. S. and Australia and reading those comments one cannot help but wonder why overseas Cambodians are often so dimwitted, having had the opportunity for a better education that some clearly have not taken advantage of. No wonder then that the Khmer in Cambodia sort of dislike their overseas brethren.