Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Four Candlelight Officials Arrested, 17 Opposition Members Fined and Banned From Holding Office for Inciting Spoiled Ballots 

A Candlelight Party sign at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on April 4, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
A Candlelight Party sign at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on April 4, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Four Candlelight Party officials have been arrested for allegedly inciting spoiled ballots, according to police and court warrants. 

Seventeen opposition members were also fined and banned from holding elected office for at least 20 years after being convicted in absentia of inciting voters to spoil their national election ballots, according to the Phnom Penh Municipal Election Committee (PEC).

The opposition members included seven former CNRP lawmakers — Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Long Ry, Nuth Romdul, Hou Vann, Kong Saphea, Eng Chhai Eang — and eleven activists, including Seng Mengbunrong and Chham Chhany, documents published by PEC show.

PEC director Sim Dony said the committee fined the 74-year-old Sam Rainy 20 million riel ($4,845) and banned him from elected office for the next 25 years, while the rest of the opposition members were fined 10 million riels ($2,422) and banned from running as candidates for the next 20 years for running candiation elections.

“We have tried them in absentia because they are all living abroad,” PEC director Sim Dony told CamboJA.

The National Election Committee (NEC) announced last week it would take legal action against anyone who calls for people to spoil their ballots in the July 23 national elections. 

Two of the four arrested Candlelight Party officials were detained on Friday. They were steering committee member Ly Ry, and acting Phnom Penh party chief Bun Kat.

The two have now been charged with incitement for calling for others to “destroy the ballot” and are currently detained in Prey Sar prison, according to Phnom Penh municipal police chief Sar Thet. 

Candlelight also posted on Monday that its Tbong Khmum province party chief Eng Sroy and the head of the party’s women’s movement, Vong Runy, were arrested on Monday afternoon.

According to a court warrant posted on government-aligned Freshnews media, investigating judge Yi Sokvouch charged the two with incitement to disturb social security by causing turmoil for the election.

Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith confirmed their arrests and referred CamboJA to the party’s Sunday statement calling for their release. 

Government-aligned Freshnews media online posted a video on Monday of Kat apologizing to Hun Sen.

“Recently, I have received an order from prisoner Sam Rainsy, who asked me to disseminate to people to go vote on July 23 but spoil ballots,” Kat said in the clip.

There has been no sign that Kat was released from detention. Prison Department spokesperson Nouth Savana said he did not know if Kat remained in custody. Court spokesperson Y Rin could not be reached for comment.

In Kampong Cham, the provincial election committee also fined Candlelight official Ly Menghorng 10 million riel ($2,400) and banned him from running as a candidate for election for the next ten years, according to NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea.

Menghorng is party secretary in Koh Sotin district, Kampong Cham Candlelight Party member Ly Kimheang said.

The NEC spokesperson said that Menghorng had posted a comment on July 1 calling for people to spoil ballots to “provide justice for ourselves and compatriots” through a Facebook account named Vanrith Ly. 

Kampong Cham PEC director Chhim Chanthoeun confirmed the punishment but declined to comment further.

Sam Kunthearmy, executive director of the election watchdog Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that the NEC should issue a warning letter before taking legal action in order to carry out the election process smoothly.

“As principal, [the law] has encouraged people to vote, and how they tick the ballot [secrecy room] it is the right of voters,” he added.

Rainsy, the exiled opposition figure, told CamboJA via email that the government knows the movement to spoil the ballot “is very powerful and dangerous for them.” 

“Given the secrecy of the ballot, there is no way that spoiling the ballot or incitement to spoil the ballot can be considered as crimes,” he said. “The judicial complaint against me is simply intended to frighten the population.”

Rainsy added that spoiling a ballot was “a legitimate action on the part of protesting voters” given the absence of a strong opposition party after Candlelight was disqualified from participating in the elections. 

Former CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said via email that amended election laws were being used as a political weapon and that “voters have the full right to express their will on election day.” 

She said that the NEC, which is headed by a member of the CPP’s central committee, must be an independent institution with the duty and role to conduct free, fair elections.

“Spoiling the ballots is voters’ rejection of a sham election,” Sochua said.