The National Election Committee (NEC) has removed a total of 150 commune council candidates from the Candlelight Party ahead of the June election, prompting an outcry from party officials.
Candlelight leaders have called the move politically motivated and are urging NEC to reconsider. According to the party, candidates from 11 communes have been struck from the contest, including 8 in Phnom Penh (116 candidates), two in Kampong Cham province (24 candidates) and one in Pursat province (10 candidates).
Son Chhay, the party’s vice president, told reporters during a Monday press conference that local authorities have been creating obstacles for opposition parties, infringing on their political rights.
However, he asserted that the Candlelight Party would continue to fight to be represented on the ballot.
“We will not keep quiet, we advocate, we demand for the situation to be improved, we will join the polls,” he said, adding that politicized threats would bring more problems for opposition parties.
“Now it starts with deleting the entire list of candidates without a rule, creating more distrust when it comes to ballot counting,” Chhay said.
He also raised the difficulties in organizing the party’s election observer agent, since the party’s activists have been threatened.
“We ask the authorities to facilitate this. If we cannot have observers at the polling stations, what will the outcome be, how much it will raise doubts? There will be protests, and we do not want the protests after the election,” he said.
The party has urged NEC to reconsider, and keep its lists of candidates in all 11 communes.
It is also calling on the international community, especially the government of Japan – which has pledged to help improve the election process in Cambodia – to monitor and work to ensure the neutrality of the NEC in order for the election recognized by all political parties and international observers.
According to Chhay, the party will soon meet with the president of NEC to discuss and find a way to facilitate the issue. An NEC spokesman said Monday the committee has already finished deleting candidates from the ballot.
According to the party’s political disruption report in March, Candlelight candidates were persecuted and intimidated by local authorities in several ways, including demands to resign as a party candidate, unreasonable summons by police, charges of forgery, and threats to withhold public services, including the removal of IDPoor cards.
The report said that so far, four Candlelight members have been arrested since joining the party.
Cambodia will hold its commune council election on June 5, across 1,652 communes. According to information from the NEC, there are 82,786 candidates registered nationwide from 17 parties.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea told CamboJA the committee decided to delete candidates not only from Candlelight but also from the Khmer Will and Beehive parties.
He said those candidates had not themselves filled out their applications to be on the ballot, prompting an inquiry as to whether they were truly literate in the Khmer language.
“We deleted candidates from the list because we have generally observed that they are illiterate in Khmer writing and this point is required by law,” he said.
Though there is a literacy requirement to stand for election in Cambodia, the NEC has this year deleted entire commune candidate lists, as opposed to eliminating non-compliant candidates on an individual basis. This would have been an unusual move in previous election cycles.
Puthea said the trial chamber had already closed its cases against the opposition parties, which cannot protest. Such parties must not violate the law, he said.
According to Kong Monika, president of the Khmer Will Party, 33 candidates from his party in Phnom Penh have so far been deleted from the election list.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the opposition parties contested the issue because they refused to take responsibility for their mistakes.
“To say that the CPP is concerned about the Candlelight Party’s popularity is not true,” he said. “Because we know this party is a small part of the former CNRP which had already lost since 2013.”
Korn Savang, an advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said the NEC should give an opportunity for political parties to replace contested candidates, rather than delete entire lists.
He said this is the first time the committee has done that, which has been abusing the people’s right to choose their representatives.
“People need more political parties, they need someone they like in their community, they need a choice of political rights,” he said. (Additional reporting by Try Thaney)