Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NEC Refuses to Register Candlelight Despite Interior Ministry Document

Candlelight Party leaders met at their headquarters on Thursday to discuss the ongoing issues with registering for the July election. (Candlelight Party’s Facebook page)
Candlelight Party leaders met at their headquarters on Thursday to discuss the ongoing issues with registering for the July election. (Candlelight Party’s Facebook page)

The National Election Committee has rejected a document submitted by the Candlelight Party as part of its registration for the July election, even though the document was issued by the Interior Ministry last week.

Candlelight has yet to successfully register for the July 23 national election owing to bureaucratic hurdles. The NEC this week rejected the application of Candlelight Party vice president Rong Chhun from Kandal for not being legally rehabilitated after serving a prison sentence. He has since withdrawn his nomination.

The election organizing body has also required parties to submit a verified copy of their original party registration document with their candidate lists. Candlelight has said they do not have the original 1998 registration document for the Sam Rainsy Party — the name of the party when it was formed by the exiled opposition leader. The party said the document was lost following a raid on the party’s headquarters in 2017.

Candlelight has since met with the Interior Ministry to ask for a copy of the party registration and was instead given a letter from the ministry confirming its status as a registered political party. The Interior Ministry is in charge of political party registrations.

However, NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said on Friday that the election body had to apply the regulations fairly for all parties and cannot accept the document submitted by Candlelight.

“NEC has reviewed [Interior Ministry letter] that cannot accept,” he said. “All parties must prepare documents in advance.”

Puthea said parties were given five days after registrations closed to make any corrections to their application and that the NEC will finish reviewing all applications on May 14, Sunday. If a party still had an issue with their registration application, they would have to take it up with the Constitutional Council.

Asked about the Interior Ministry document issued last week, ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said on Friday that officials had already issued all documents to the party — seemingly referring to the party’s registration document from 1998 — and proceeded to speculate about the whereabouts of the original document.

“We gave it to them when they came to register,” Sopheak said.

“Maybe, they took it away. This no longer involves the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

“The original document was already given. How can we make a copy? I don’t understand,” Sopheak said. “Maybe they hid the original document or pawned it at a bank in exchange for money.”

Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith could not be reached for comment Friday evening but told CamboJA earlier in the day that the party was meeting with the Interior Ministry Friday afternoon.

Korn Savang, from election monitor Comfrel, said the NEC should accept the Interior Ministry’s notification that Candlelight is a registered party and not require additional documentation to prove its legal status.

“NEC should take a look at the requirements and procedures to make sure the upcoming election is free, fair and equal, and that no party is rejected because of unnecessary requirements,” Savang said.

The NEC permitted the Candlelight Party — which was revived after the dissolution of the Cambodia Rescue National Party in 2017 — to contest the commune election in 2022 and the recently concluded district council elections last month.

As of Friday, the NEC had confirmed the participation of 13 political parties in the July election. There were 20 parties in the 2018 election — conducted months after the closure of the CNRP — with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party winning all 125 seats in the National Assembly.

(Additional reporting by Sovann Sreypich)