Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Opposition Party Accepts Council Election Results, But Dismayed by Events Leading To Election

Representatives of Candlelight Party and Khmer Will Party hold a press conference in Phnom Penh on June 10, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Representatives of Candlelight Party and Khmer Will Party hold a press conference in Phnom Penh on June 10, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Although Candlelight Party and Khmer Will Party accepted the results of the recent provincial/municipal and district council election, they remained disappointed with the outcome as voters continued to experience arrests and detention. 

Secretary-general Ly Sothearayuth of Candlelight Party said in a joint press conference on Monday that both their parties were not against the final results but were dismayed by the alleged “pressure” placed on voters, which affected the projected outcome. 

Official election results showed that the Khmer Will Party won 47 provincial council seats and 312 seats in the municipal/district councils. Ruling party Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 504 seats and 3,257 seats, respectively. 

Sothearayuth said the 359 provincial/municipal and district council seats, which they won, reflected the loyalty of commune councilors, who were members of Candlelight Party, and the party’s “strong position”.

However, he pointed out that they were dismayed as the result showed a decline of about three to four percent compared to the Senate election results. 

We have voted … Community members show their fingers marked with indelible ink after voting at the council election in Phnom Penh on May 26, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
We have voted … Community members show their fingers marked with indelible ink after voting at the council election in Phnom Penh on May 26, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Struggled to replace defected members 

Sothearayuth explained that this was due to reasons including difficulties replacing 165 council members who defected to other parties. Because Candlelight could not replace them, their names remained under the Candlelight logo on the ballot paper.

He said requests for candidate replacements for some of the seats were stuck at the district level and some at the provincial and Ministry of Interior levels. 

Interior Ministry spokesperson Touch Sokhak said the claim that his ministry had offered no solution which impacted Candlight’s results was “just an excuse for losing the election”.

“[They] are blaming state institutions for losing the election,” he told CamboJA News, adding that “such excuses are not appropriate for a politician”.

“First, they split up to form this party [and] that party […] until there was unhappiness and distrust among its members, they asked for a change and there were members who were exchanged”.

“Then, they filed a complaint [against their own members],” Sokhak said, adding “I don’t know how to solve [this], it’s their story.” He suggested that Candlelight Party look into its “internal conflict and resolve them first”.

Arrest of opposition leaders before election

Another reason for the “underwhelming results”, Sothearayuth said, was that some of its commune council members were allegedly intimidated and threatened by “powerful” individuals, undermining the security and freedom of voters. 

In addition, prior to the election, about 18 Candlelight Party members were arrested and detained from January to May 2024.

Sothearayuth has asked the National Election Committee (NEC) to facilitate the voting process for those detained, but was instead told that the issue was “beyond their jurisdiction”. 

“The arrests before the election violate the rights of voters and intimidate them. It also affects the rights of the party and the election results.” 

Responding to Sothearayuth’s claims, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said the council elections were conducted in a “free, fair and just” manner, and that there were “no irregularities”. The NEC has already announced the official results, he commented.

“To say that the election was a threat, I think it is not effective,” he said. “Doing illegal work and combining it with the election, I don’t think it’s right.”

Eysan said if anyone did something wrong before or during the election, they should be held responsible. 

“The voters are the focal point of the commune council and they had said no one can intimidate them, especially opposition activists. Even if there was a threat, they must be strong and believe in their party. But when they lose the election, they say things like this. It’s so funny,” Eysan said.

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said the election was conducted in accordance with the law and Candlelight’s request for facilitation was not within the jurisdiction of the NEC. 

Regarding the change of members, Puthea posed the question back to Candlelight, asking why some council members did not issue the council ID card. 

“The problem is that the upper level does not know how the lower level works. At this point, the NEC complied with the law but the party didn’t comply with the law, making the election look like a problem,” he said. 

Opposition members defect to CPP

For those who resigned from the party and defected to other parties, Sothearayuth said it was their individual right and it did not affect the party’s popularity because it has been happening for a long time.

On June 9, five Battambang Provincial Candlelight Party committee members quit the opposition party and requested CPP president Hun Sen’s permission to join his party, according to a video.

The five, Heng Sokha, Duk Chien, Phal Saram, Vong Saroeut and Mith Sambath, left Candlelight because former opposition leader Sam Rainsy did not support the Funan Techo Canal project, which they said was beneficial to the country.

“We would like to declare our secession from the opposition […] We will join the CPP from now on,” they said.

Apart from them, there were also opposition members in other provinces who joined the CPP due to similar reasons.

The issue was not considered a problem for Candlelight, Sothearayuth said, adding that there are several new members in Candlelight.

Since the party has three seats in the Senate, 2,198 commune councils, and an additional 359 seats following the council elections, Candlelight Party and Khmer Will Party have a “political capital” with their sub-national representatives. 

Meanwhile, both parties continue to welcome other political parties which want to join their four-party Alliance Towards The Future as they want to expand their influence to compete in the national election in 2027-2028.

Sothearayuth said they are planning to train the 359 newly-elected councilors about advocacy and problem-solving next month onwards.

Night-time apology

Separately, Sun Chanthy, president of the Nation Power Party (NPP), issued an apology letter on June 8 to Prime Minister Hun Manet from prison, stating that he regretted the remarks made during a meeting with about 20 Cambodians in Japan, which affected the “honor and efforts of the government under Hun Manet’s leadership”.

He said he was sorry for “inadvertently misrepresenting” the government, according to the letter posted on Fresh News’ Facebook page.

Sun Chanty, president of Nation Power Party, talks with party members in a meeting in Japan in May 2024 (Facebook photo).
Sun Chanthy, president of Nation Power Party, talks with party members in a meeting in Japan in May 2024 (Facebook photo).

Chanthy was arrested on May 9 at the Phnom Penh International Airport just as he touched down from Japan for allegedly inciting to disturb social order via a post on social media.

Regarding the apology, Chea Mony, vice-president of NPP, opined that the letter did not seem “official” as it was not dated.

“The letter looks suspicious because it was leaked at night,” Mony told CamboJA News, thus NPP could not comment further whether the “apology was true or false” because they have not met with Chanthy’s family yet.

“If the apology was true, it is Sun Chanthy’s personal right,” he said, adding that it “does not represent the NPP.”