On May 25, Cambodia’s Constitutional Council rejected an appeal by the country’s main opposition party against its disqualification from the July elections, Reuters reported.
Over a week ago, the Candlelight Party’s registration for the July elections was formally rejected by the country’s National Election Committee (NEC), according to local media CamboJA News.
The NEC claimed that the opposition party had failed to submit its 1998 original registration letter, based on a statement cited by the media outlet.
In response to the disqualification, prominent opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile, said that it would be “a joke to refer to Cambodia as a democracy,” according to an earlier report by Reuters.
The Candlelight Party had been given five days to appeal NEC’s decision, but its appeal was eventually dismissed.
This means that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will likely not face opposition in the upcoming elections, and it will be the second election in which the opposition has been barred from running, according to Reuters.
18 other parties have registered for the elections, according to Al Jazeera, but Candlelight is seen as the sole “credible” opposition party.
The party was founded in 1995 as the Khmer Nation Party, renamed as the Sam Rainsy Party in 1998 and most recently in 2018 as the Candlelight Party.
It is also the reincarnation of the popular Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) which was disbanded in 2017 by the Supreme Court just before an election in 2017, according to Nikkei Asia.
With regard to the “missing” document, Candlelight had submitted a copy of the registration letter, as the original was lost during a police raid in 2017 at the headquarters of CNRP, CamboJA News reported.
A spokesperson from the party, Kimsour Phearith, said that they managed to contest in the 2022 communal elections, so questioned why they had been disqualified this time.
In 2022, the Candlelight Party had submitted a newer registration letter issued by the Interior Ministry which verified it as a legitimate organisation.
They proceeded to gain 22 per cent of votes the local commune elections, while the CPP got 74 per cent.
“We are disappointed, we never thought that the procedure is very complicated like this because the important law just required that the political party be registered at the Interior Ministry,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by CamboJA News.
The ruling party links
According to CamboJA News, the NEC is headed by Prach Chan. Phnom Penh Post identified him as a former member of the CPP’s central committee cabinet.
Candlelight’s appeal was heard by the Constitutional Council, which is the highest body of review for the constitutionality of laws and official decisions. It is headed by Im Chhun Lim, who according to the Economist Intelligence Unit was a former minister for the CPP government.
The party has ruled the country since 1979, while Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, 70, has been in power for 38 years.
His eldest son, army chief Hun Manet, was recently promoted to Cambodia’s highest military rank and is widely regarded as his successor.
Many members of the opposition have been detained or convicted of crimes, while others remain in self-imposed exile to avoid Hun’s crackdown, Nikkei Asia reported.
In April 2023, Human Rights Watch accused the Cambodian government of using “violent rhetoric” to step up attacks on the country’s opposition. It also pointed out that Hun had previously made explicit threats of arrests and force on political opponents.
The country’s government denied such claims and said that legal action was taken as part of law enforcement, according to Nikkei Asia.
Season of elections
Cambodia will be holding its elections on Jul. 23 and approximately 9.7 million citizens are eligible to vote, AP reported.
Meanwhile, its neighbour Thailand recently held its general elections.
Opposition parties in Thailand have led the race over the incumbents, leading to a coalition that will have to navigate or bypass the country’s military-appointed Senate.
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Top image via Facebook/Candlelight Party