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NEC Concedes to Some Changes But Too Late for Candlelight Party

Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay speaks with media after his meeting with the National Election Committee (NEC) in Phnom Penh, April 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay speaks with media after his meeting with the National Election Committee (NEC) in Phnom Penh, April 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The National Election Committee (NEC) has agreed to change some articles in the election law after meeting with leaders of the opposition Candlelight Party, the party’s vice president Son Chhay said.

The NEC struck 150 Candlelight Party members from the list of commune election candidates in April, saying some of them had not filled out their applications themselves. That meant they might not be literate in Khmer, the NEC said, which is a requirement to stand for election.

But after a Monday meeting Chhay said that senior officials in the NEC had agreed that, in the future, they would allow political parties the chance to clarify and appeal before permanently deleting candidates from the list.

“We had some success, the NEC might change the law, letting us make clarifications before deleting people. They will need to give an exact reason (for removing anyone)… and political parties will be able to submit a new list,” Mr. Chhay told reporters outside the NEC headquarters.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea confirmed the committee had held discussions with the Candlelight Party related to improving the electoral process ahead of the next elections.

“Next time we will involve all stakeholders if we decide to make changes (to the list),” he said.

However, Mr. Chhay noted that it was too late to add the candidates who were struck off in  Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham and Pursat provinces back to the list this time.

“It was very unjust because they deleted our whole list when in fact there were only a few candidates whose applications contained mistakes. They should allow us to submit a new list,” he said.

Korn Savang, an advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), agreed, saying the deletion of candidates from the list had infringed on the right of the public to participate in politics.

“Some candidates fulfilled all the requirements to run for election, but they were banned by the NEC despite having done nothing wrong,” Mr. Savang said.

A man drives a motorbike past the National Election Committee (NEC) in Phnom Penh, April 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

During the meeting NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha also agreed to make sure local authorities allow opposition party members the freedom to carry out their campaigning unimpeded, according to Mr. Chhay.

The Candlelight Party has reported 10 cases where members were threatened, he said, including two arrests in Pursat province, and defamation and incitement cases in Pailin province.

Meanwhile, there are not enough Candlelight Party observers to monitor commune elections scheduled for June, Mr. Chhay said, after local authorities threatened them.

Cambodia will hold its commune council election on June 5, across 1,652 communes, with 82,786 candidates registered from 17 parties.

Em Sovannara, a political analyst, said that the Candlelight Party —  whose members and supporters come from the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party — are being persecuted because they have a good chance of taking seats away from the ruling CPP.

All the members of the NEC come from the ruling party, he noted, and have consistently put pressure on Mr. Chhay’s party.

“It’s clear that a popular political party capable of competing with the ruling party [CPP] is denied lots of freedoms and is not allowed to compete equally,” he said. “There is still a lack of fair and equitable political freedom in the electoral atmosphere.”

He added that as long as Cambodia’s elections aren’t fully democratic, international pressure will continue to be applied on the Hun Sen government.

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