Candlelight Party Vice President Rong Chhun announced his resignation from the opposition party on Thursday and said he was joining the recently formed Nation Power Party.
“We have clearly seen that only the Nation Power Party can continue the path of the Candlelight Party, and continue the original will of democrats,” Chhun said during the press conference in Phnom Penh headquarters of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association.
Chhun made the change because the Candlelight Party can no longer participate in elections, he said. He will continue his work in the political arena with the Nation Power Party (NPP), which was recently created by a former member of the opposition Candlelight Party, Sun Chanthy, along with other co-founders.
“It does not mean we want to walk away from Candlelight, but we want to continue its path after the Interior Ministry refused to issue a party registration document,” Chhun said.
The National Election Committee disqualified the Candlelight Party from competing in the July national election because the party did not have its original 1998 registration documents.
Candlelight leaders have said authorities confiscated the documents during a 2017 raid of its precursor CNRP’s offices. In September, the Interior Ministry denied a request by the party that the ministry reissue the documents.
Rong Chhun, a longtime labor rights activist, was sentenced to two years in prison on incitement charges in 2021 after he made comments suggesting Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam during the frontier’s demarcation, a politically sensitive topic in the country. He became a Candlelight party vice president in February this year.
Chhun’s party switch follows former-unionist Chea Mony, who joined NPP earlier this week. Several other Candlelight provincial-level leaders have resigned from Candlelight to join NPP in recent weeks, which Chhun said has divided the party.
Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith said that Chhun’s leaving won’t affect the party because it is everyone’s individual right to choose their political party affiliation. In October, Candlelight formed an alliance with three minority parties to have a better chance at challenging the ruling CPP in the 2027 and 2028 elections.
“We can’t prevent him and we wish him to succeed in his new career,” Phearith said. “This does not break up [the Candlelight Party] because we continue to uphold our value of democracy.”
Ruling CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said that Chhun’s decision to leave Candlelight clearly shows that the party “is really broken up” internally among its leaders.
NPP will hold its congress at its headquarters in Kampong Thom province this Sunday November 12, with 700 participants expected to attend. Candlelight released a letter Thursday calling party members, especially its 2198 commune councilors who were elected in 2022, to not join any political events. The party will assign a representative to attend the NPP congress instead, according to the letter.