Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NEC Rejects Candlelight Party’s Registration for July Elections

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

The National Election Committee (NEC) officially rejected the Candlelight Party’s registration for the July elections, claiming that the leading opposition party had not submitted the required documents in a Monday statement

Candlelight will be allowed to appeal and a final decision will be issued before the end of May.

The NEC, headed by a high ranking member of the ruling CPP, said that Candlelight had not submitted its original registration letter issued by the Interior Ministry in 1998. 

“The Candlelight Party has failed to fill out additional documents [1998 party registration],” read the statement.

But Candlelight had successfully participated in the commune elections last year, — earning 22.25% of the vote to the CPP’s 74.32% — by using a newer registration letter from the Interior Ministry verifying the party was a recognized legal entity. 

Candlelight had also submitted a copy of its 1998 registration, the Sam Rainsy Party. The original document was lost during a 2017 police raid on the headquarters of the court-dissolved CNRP, Candlelight party’s predecessor and a descendant of the Sam Rainsy Party.

As of Monday, the NEC has accepted the registration of 18 political parties, including the CPP, according to the NEC’s website. Five parties had been “issued a letter of notification to fill the gaps” in their registration, according to unofficial translation of the NEC’s Monday statement. Only Candlelight’s registration was outright “rejected.”

According to the law, Candlelight leaders will have five days to appeal the NEC’s decision to the Constitutional Council, which is headed by ruling CPP central committee member Im Chhun Lim

After receiving the appeal, the Constitutional Council will have 10 days to make a final decision. 

Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith said the party would appeal the NEC’s decision.

“We have registered and we joined to contest [2022] commune council elections, why is it that we have met this problem for national elections? This pretext we cannot accept,” Phearith said. 

“We are disappointed, we never thought that the procedure is very complicated like this because the important law just required that the political party be registered at the Interior Ministry,” he added.

Based on the official English translation of article 27 of Cambodia’s electoral law, political parties must provide a “copy of the certificate of registration of the political party issued by the Ministry of Interior,” among other requirements.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on Monday.

On Friday, Sopheak told CamboJA that the Interior Ministry had already provided Candlelight with the 1998 document.

“We gave it to them when they came to register,” he said. “This no longer involves the Ministry of Interior. 

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

NEC spokespersons Hang Puthea and Dim Sovannarom did not respond to requests for comment. 

Puthea told CamboJA on Friday that the NEC had to apply all regulations fairly: “All parties must prepare documents in advance.”

Political analyst Meas Nee said no other opposition party besides Candlelight could hope to compete with the ruling CPP in the elections.

“Rejecting the main opposition party and not allowing it to participate in the elections, this will affect the democratic process,” Nee said. “The absence of the Candlelight Party in the July elections will impact the legitimacy of the government after the elections.”

Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet is running as a lawmaker and has been declared as his father’s successor within the ruling CPP, likely to become Prime Minister sometime in the months or years after the elections.

NEC president and CPP central committee member Prach Chan leads a meeting on Monday to decide the fate of the Candlelight Party’s registration for the national elections. (NEC’s Facebook)

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told CamboJA that the NEC’s rejection of Candlelight was due to the opposition party’s own negligence and inability to comply with the law.

“The NEC has done the right thing according to the law because the NEC is the institution that ensures law and order; all parties that want to join the election must complete all the documents,” Eysan said. “It is the fall of the Candlelight Party.” 

Candlelight’s acting secretary general Kong Monika previously told CamboJA that he saw the NEC’s decision as “intentionally putting pressure” on Candlelight.

Although the NEC is headed by Prach Chan and the Interior Ministry is run by Sar Kheng, both CPP central committee members, Eysan denied that Candlelight’s registration was rejected on political grounds. 

“How can they [Candlelight] say it is political pressure?” Eysan asked. “There are not enough documents to present for the correct application of the legal principles, and they [NEC] declined the registration. This is administrative and technical, not political.”

On Saturday, Candlelight leaders had called for supporters to assemble and “advocate” for the party to be allowed to participate in the elections but Hun Sen warned over the weekend that this would lead to arrests and legal action and urged authorities to be ready to respond to any protests.

“Please do not hesitate to take legal action in responding to the dangerous activities of Candlelight,” Hun Sen said. “All prisons are prepared to receive those leaders across all levels of Candlelight Party if they dare to commit offenses.”

Additional reporting by Sovann Sreypich