Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Candlelight to Challenge NEC Decision at Constitutional Council

Candlelight Party leaders held a press conference on May 16, 2023, to discuss the NEC’s decision to exclude it from the July national election. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Candlelight Party leaders held a press conference on May 16, 2023, to discuss the NEC’s decision to exclude it from the July national election. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

The Candlelight Party will challenge the National Election Committee’s decision to disqualify it from the July election by petitioning the Constitution Council this week, the party said Tuesday.

The NEC on Monday said it had rejected Candlelight’s election nominations for the July national election because its application lacked the required documents, specifically the original party registration. Candlelight said it does not have this document and was recently given a letter from the Interior Ministry confirming the party’s registration status. The NEC has refused to accept this letter.

The beleaguered opposition party held a press conference on Tuesday and said it would petition the Constitutional Council to reverse the NEC’s decision and allow Candlelight candidates to contest the election.

Candlelight vice president Son Chhay said the party disagreed with the NEC’s decision and was of the view that the Interior Ministry letter was sufficient to apply for the election.

“We will try to submit the procedures to the Constitutional Council as soon as possible … at the latest on May 20,” Chhay said at the party headquarters.

 “Hopefully, we will be able to address this issue positively,” he added.

The Candlelight’s challenge is based on the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly which allows any candidate or political party that was rejected by the NEC to file an appeal with the Constitutional Council, no more than 5 days after receiving a notice of rejection.

The Constitutional Council can take up to 10 days after receiving the complaint to announce its decision.

Previously, Candlelight said it had lost the registration document during a 2017 raid at the Cambodia National Rescue Party headquarters. The NEC, in a statement from May 14, said it had been following this procedure since April 2018, which required parties to submit a certified copy of the party registration document, a process that would require the original document.

However, Candlelight was allowed by the NEC to register for the 2022 commune election and district council byelection in April 2023 without this document.

Reactions to the NEC’s Monday decision have flowed in over the last 24 hours. The European Union said on Tuesday that the election body’s decision would deprive voters of the right to choose their preferred representatives. 

“[It] is another worrying sign of shrinking space for political parties to compete in the upcoming general election,” reads the statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said in an email the decision to keep Candlelight away from the polls “for allegedly failing to submit correct paperwork” would undermine Cambodia’s democracy ahead of the July election.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said it was an “alarming sign” that parties were being excluded from the polls. 

On the flip side, at least ten political parties, who are registered for the July election, have released statements supporting the NEC. They include the royalist Funcinpec, Khmer Nation United Party and Cambodia Nationality Party. 

“This shows that all political parties have to respect the law,” said Funcinpec spokesperson Nhoeurn Raden.

The only political party to object to the NEC’s decision is the Grassroots Democratic Party.

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)