Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

As commune election campaigns begin, some parties already reporting irregularities

Takhmao city authorities preventing Candlelight Party members to march near a central market in the city on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Photo supplied.
Takhmao city authorities preventing Candlelight Party members to march near a central market in the city on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Photo supplied.

As the wide field of Cambodian political parties began their two-week campaign period on Saturday ahead of the June 5 commune elections, members of two opposition groups are already reporting conflicts with local authorities.

Members of the Candlelight Party said that officials had disrupted their Sunday campaign events in Takhmao city. Party leaders say their march in the capital of Kandal province was banned by local authorities, who party members said did not allow party members to enter central areas.

Son Chhay, the vice president of the Candlelight Party,  said Takhmao authorities banned the Candlelight Party from entering the densely populated area even though it is allowed in the roadmap of the National Election Committee (NEC).

Chhay said it was discriminatory not to allow Candlelight to march on the main streets, as the CPP does.

“Giving equal rights to election propaganda is not possible since the ruling party has all the means, including the media coverage,” he said.

Chhay urged the NEC to show its independence so that people can have more confidence while going to the polls.

Candlelight is the only opposition party that has registered for almost all of Cambodia’s 1,652 communes. Though the NEC has stripped its candidates from running in several communes, citing electoral rules about illiteracy as justification to remove the candidates, Candlelight officials say they are now fielding candidates in 1,623 communes.

It is the first commune election since the Supreme Court in November 2017 disbanded the CNRP.  That move was widely perceived to be politically motivated and won Cambodia the mounting disapproval of Europe and the U.S.

Candlelight isn’t the only party now reporting disturbances from local officials.

Sam In, secretary general of the small opposition group Grassroots Democratic Party, said a party sign in Svay Rieng province had been destroyed. He also said the party’s march on Saturday in Kampong Cham, the scheduling of which is handled by the NEC, overlapped with that of the CPP – an occurrence the committee says it works to avoid.

In believed the overlap with the far more visible CPP showed a “tendency toward” the ruling party by the NEC.

“We hope that the election campaign will run smoothly and fairly, without any obstruction or intimidation from the local authorities,” he said.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said that, so far, election authorities have not received any complaints of irregularities.

“All political parties must exercise restraint and cooperate with local authorities to avoid misinterpreting to the public without a clear basis – that leads to discrimination,” he added.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan refuted allegations that the NEC sided with the ruling party.

“NEC follows the principle of law and is not biased or restrictive of any parties, the allegations are baseless,” he said.

Eysan said that, in general, election campaigning goes smoothly without intimidation or violence.

“Each political party has been performing according to its own ability,” he said.

The Candlelight Party, formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party, later merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP. Candlelight members convened last November to restart the party in the run-up to the commune elections and the general election next year.

In the 2017 commune elections, the CNRP won more than 5,000 seats, compared to the CPP’s win of more than 6,000 seats. After the CNRP was dissolved in 2017, leaving the country without a serious opposition and leaving party president Kem Sokha arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy charges, the CPP won all 125 seats in the 2018 national election.

The CPP in this commune election is campaigning on a political message of sustained peace and the achievement of the victory day of January 7, 1979, marking the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Korn Savang, an election observer with the monitoring group COMFREL, said that minor irregularities had occurred during the first few days of the election campaign.

“Some political parties were banned in some areas not [allowed] to enter or march past,” he said, adding that the ruling party has enough ability and resources to promote. itself.

“What we have observed during the campaign in some areas, [the CPP] is using vehicles with state license plates,”  he said.

Political parties are not allowed to use state resources or assets to campaign.