Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Over 400 Candlelight Party Members Demand Resignation of President Teav Vannol

Candlelight Party’s members protest in front of the party headquarters in Phnom Penh on December 18, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Candlelight Party’s members protest in front of the party headquarters in Phnom Penh on December 18, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Over 400 members and supporters of Candlelight Party rallied at the headquarters in Phnom Penh on Monday, calling for party president Teav Vannol’s resignation and demanding that officials remain in office. The officials had been dismissed from their roles for “no reason despite being loyal to the party”.

The protest came a week after the party issued a proclamation urging all 2,198 elected commune councilors to be loyal to the party and vote for Khmer Will Party, the party selected in the coalition for the upcoming senate election in February 2024.

In the protesters’ petition, Vannol and secretary-general Ly Sothearayuth were asked to resign and stop threatening and attempting to remove members from office without reason, as well as respect the right of party members to make their own decision.

The petition continued: “In order to maintain internal unity and solidarity, as well as maintain the original spirit of the Candlelight Party, we, the members and local leaders, request the two weak leaders, Teav Vannol and Ly Sothearayuth to resign from the party unconditionally from today”.

Candlelight executive committee secretary in Siem Reap’s Soutr Nikum district Prak Ponnareay, who joined the protest, said the party should retain the position of Siem Reap provincial executive Som Sorya.

The party had terminated Sorya for “no apparent reason” and that there had been no discussion with the 12 city-district executives, Ponnareay said, adding that after the former’s dismissal, Candlelight did not appoint a vice president. Instead, it nominated an unknown person to hold the executive post of the Siem Reap branch.

“For a while now, lower level members are [letter] stamped to remove [dismissed without explanation]. There is no clear reason for removing the Siem Reap provincial executive. there was no discussion with the head of the 12 city-district executive committees.” he said.

The protesters have stated that if the party does not reinstate the dismissed officials, they want the president to step down.

Prior to the protest, Ponnareay said the executives of the 12 city-districts in Siem Reap had submitted a petition for clarification from the party leadership regarding the dismissal of the provincial executives earlier this month. There is no response as yet.

On Monday morning, about 450 party members and supporters from nine provinces, including Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kandal and Phnom Penh gathered in front of the headquarters. Around 100 of them were from Siem Reap, most of whom were members of the party’s commune council as well as the 12 city-district executives, Ponnareay said.

Phal Sokhorn, a party supporter from Siem Reap, decided to join the protest because she was dissatisfied with the party’s decision to end the tenure of the executives in the province.

She said Sorya is an honest person, who struggled with them, supported subordinates and worked hard with opposition parties for 20 years.

“Because he [Sorya] was dismissed, there was no consultation meeting, or if the provincial executive was wrong, so we [the Candlelight Party] told Sorya to correct his mistake,” she said. “We are not at fault. The party removed him for no reason.”

On November 25, 2023, the Candlelight Party decided to remove Sorya from the Siem Reap provincial executive committee.

The decision stated that the termination of the position was in accordance with the internal regulations and decision of the Standing Committee, as Sorya acted contrary to the interests of the party.

Two weeks after the decision on December 7, exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, called on political parties that uphold democracy to unite and cooperate.

Rainsy also remarked, “this is wrong”, in response to Sorya’s termination letter, which was posted by a Facebook user called Aing Sopharith.

A protester from Phnom Penh, Sar Neang, said he held the post of the second deputy chief of Khmuonh commune in Sen Sok district before he was fired without explanation on December 2.

He appealed to Vannol to reinstate him, saying that he had been loyal to the party and served the people all these years but to no avail.

According to Neang, five leaders of the party were terminated from their posts as commune councils for Boeung Tumpun, Veal Vong, Kraing Thnong and Khmuonh in Phnom Penh without question. Three of them were second deputy sangkat chiefs and two were council members.

“If there is no resolution to our demand, we will continue to protest until party president Teav Vannol instructs that all relevant documents [dismissal of council members] be quashed,” he said.

In response to the protest, party secretary-general Ly Sothearayuth said since the commune council elections, one provincial and four district officials have been fired from their role for not complying with the party’s internal rules and regulations.

He said the party did stop or fire any of its members, only certain officials.

Sothearayuth continued that the party did not issue any threats against its members and that the removal of Vannol and himself depends on the party congress.

“The party leadership did not intimidate or threaten its official and elected commune councilors,” he said. “On the contrary, they have used their role to threaten and resign from [their] role as commune councilors, as in Kampong Thom, and leave the party.”

“The party has prevented them from exercising their influence and power, threatening to remove others from office or expelling any member from the party for disobeying and following wrong orders,” he added.

Senator candidate from Khmer Will Party and former Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phirith said the protesters comprise ex-Candlelight members. Some of them have joined the ruling party and some are with the Nation Power Party. “[They] are not members of the Candlelight Party.”

Political analyst Em Sovannara told CamboJA that the protest happened because the party leadership is not very active and lacks unity among party members.

The party leader should gather the protesters to clarify the party policies with regards to the removal and placement of new officials in accordance with their regulations.

“[He should say] ‘Let’s talk’, because the opposition party has low votes. It’s not difficult to solve [the issue]. It [only] requires the leaders of the Candlelight party to stand up and talk, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

The election monitoring officer said opposition parties are likely to lose seats in the senate or might only see a little difference than expected, assuming the party leader does not unite the electorate.