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Candlelight Party sets out 2023 strategy, won’t join coalition

Senior Candlelight Party members sworn at Angkor Wat before a party leadership retreat in Siem Reap, September 8, 2022. Candlelight Party Facebook page.
Senior Candlelight Party members sworn at Angkor Wat before a party leadership retreat in Siem Reap, September 8, 2022. Candlelight Party Facebook page.

Members of the main opposition Candlelight Party vowed to push for democracy and fight injustice during a ceremony at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province last week that was heavy with symbolism.

The taking of the oath to the Khmer ancestors at the famous temple complex came at the start of a three-day meeting during which party officials from across the provinces laid out a set of seven principles ahead of next year’s national election.

“We have promised to carry out our work honestly to have a chance to serve the nation,” the party’s vice president, Son Chhay, said in front of a statue of the Buddha.

“We are determined to fight against injustice and struggle for national unity, prosperity, and the happiness of the Khmer people,” he continued.

As well as agreeing on their guiding principles, the party leaders decided not to join an alliance with three other minor opposition parties ahead of the vote.

“We don’t have enough time before the upcoming national election and the Candlelight Party has many tasks to do like strengthening support at the grassroot level,” said party spokesman Thach Setha on why they had rejected the alliance.

However, he welcomed further cooperation in terms of advocating for reform of the National Election Committee (NEC).

Among the seven points agreed on were the need to develop the quality and capacity of the party’s structure from the bottom up, make sure policies reflect the people’s needs, and protect the democratic space.

Senior Candlelight Party members attend a party leadership retreat in Siem Reap, September 10, 2022. Candlelight Party Facebook page.

Asked for comment on the Candlelight Party’s meeting, Sok Eysan, spokesman for ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), joked that the oath-taking followed the “failed pattern” of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

He added that the CPP was looking forward to going up against the Candlelight Party in the upcoming national elections.

“We are not at all concerned because the Candlelight Party came from the defunct CNRP, and they [CNRP] lost,” he said, adding that now the splintered opposition would find it “impossible to win,”

In the June commune elections, the CPP won 1,648 out of 1,652 commune chief positions, with the Candlelight Party taking just four. The CPP also won a whopping 74.3 percent of the commune council seats.

In July,  the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) created an alliance with two other minor parties, the Khmer Will Party and the Cambodia Reform Party, hoping it would make them a stronger contender in 2023 polls and able to  challenge the ruling party’s dominance in the National Assembly.

Sam Inn, secretary-general of the Grassroots Democratic Party, said he was “regretful” about the Candlelight Party’s decision not to join the alliance because they “think they are a big ship that can go alone.”

“We are regretful because the data has already shown that if we don’t cooperate well the CPP will receive the overwhelming number of votes,” he said, pointing out that when the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party merged to become the CNRP, they won more seats in the National Assembly.

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