Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) announced on Monday that they have disqualified the main opposition party known as the Candlelight Party. The disqualification will effect the national elections, scheduled for July. The NEC claims the Candlelight Party has not provided relevant paperwork needed to register. The Cambodian People’s Party currently holds power and has done so since 1979.
The NEC released a document on Saturday detailing the procedure of political party registration. The document states political parties must register “in accordance to the conditions stated…in the law of Political parties.” All political parties are required to meet the three provisions listed in the document.
The Candlelight Party claimed they have lost their paperwork in a police raid that took place in 2017. They refused to accept the NEC’s decision and demand that the courts overrule it. Kimsour Phirith, a Cambodian lawmaker, spoke to VOA Cambodia and stated the Candlelight party “will file an appeal” in an attempt to make the courts overturn the decision. Officials also insisted that they were able to participate in commune elections without documents in 2022.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), a non-governmental organization working to ensure democratic elections in the region, expressed “deep concern” over the NEC’s decision and called it “both unjust and disproportionate.” ANFREL stated, “The disqualification also reveals the government’s disdain for political pluralism and genuine competition, leaving no room for genuine democratic competition. It is a regressive step that further solidifies the ruling party’s grip on power and stifles the voices of those seeking democratic change.”
This is the latest in a series of, what Human Rights Watch (HRW) described as, extremely violent and corrupt acts under the rule of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s longtime prime minister. Hun Sen has been known to “manipulate elections” and “control security forces” in the past. The most significant example of this being a grenade attack on an opposition party rally in 1997. In their statement, ANFREL cited a “consistent pattern of physical attacks, intimidation and harassment” against members of the Candlelight Party, mirroring Hun Sen’s earlier behavior.