Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

PM Hun Sen Threatens Candlelight Members with Arrest If They Protest Party’s Inability to Participate in Elections

Prime Minister Hun Sen gives a speech at the National Inter-Faith Forum Against Human Trafficking on September 29, 2022, in a photo posted to his Facebook page.
Prime Minister Hun Sen gives a speech at the National Inter-Faith Forum Against Human Trafficking on September 29, 2022, in a photo posted to his Facebook page.

Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to arrest and take legal actions against the Candlelight Party’s plans to rally supporters to protest the National Election Committee’s rejection of the party’s registration.

“It is a premeditated threat to provoke instability through the way it is called advocacy opinions,” Hun Said said through his Telegram channel and Facebook page on Saturday, of the party’s intentions to “advocate” against the decision.

“What Candlelight has done is one step toward threats to security and stability by calling the supporting forces to join [in assembly],” Hun Sen added. “[I] order all authorities competent levels not to allow for assemblies against public order while Cambodia is hosting Sea Games [through May 17].”

Candlelight called on Saturday for a peaceful “assembly” of party leaders, members and supporters across provinces after the NEC refused to accept the leading opposition party’s registration.

In late March, the NEC had mandated that Candlelight submit its original party registration documents from 1998, which had been lost in a police raid in 2017. While Candlelight was formed in 2021, the party was originally registered as the Sam Rainsy Party — the name of the party when it was formed by its eponymous exiled opposition leader.

In his Telegram statement, Hun Sen called for authorities to prepare to arrest all national and sub-national Candlelight leaders who protested the party’s inability to participate in the July 23 National Elections.

“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.”

He added that Candlelight could appeal the NEC’s decision to the Constitutional Council.

Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith told CamboJA on Sunday that the Interior Ministry has still refused to issue a copy of the party’s original registration document. Phearith said the Ministry claimed that the letter it issued last year recognizing the opposition party’s registration under its new name Candlelight was sufficient for the national elections, even as the NEC stated otherwise.

“They [Interior Ministry] said they have enough legal scope because they’ve already issued the letter recognizing the Candlelight is registered legally,” Phearith said. “[On Saturday] we took this verification letter [to the Interior Ministry] to verify its legality with the Phnom Penh municipality and submitted it to the NEC.”

Phearith said that the party has legally registered at the Interior Ministry and can join to compete in the elections. Candlelight Party did not intend to hold a demonstration, the spokesperson said.

“They have threatened us first because they are afraid of us doing the demonstration,” Phearith said. 

“We agree that we can’t violate the law, we want to be calm as well,” he added. “We want peace, respect for others, and we want a good election environment, we don’t want to provoke problems.”

Government-aligned Fresh News reported that Hun Sen will meet with Candlelight leaders on July 30 — one week after the elections which Candlelight is currently unable to participate in.

“It is up to him, Samdech [Hun Sen],” Phearith said.

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea confirmed that the Candlelight filed more documents on Saturday and that NEC will have the meeting to review and make a decision on Monday, May 15.

Candlelight has submitted more documents including a national treasury invoice, a candidate to replace recently disqualified trade union leader Rong Chhun, and the Interior Ministry’s letter verifying Candlelight is a legal entity.

“[Monday], we have a meeting to make a decision whether it is legitimate documents or not for registering a political party,” the NEC spokesperson said.