Cambodia: Disqualification of main opposition party enables another sham election

Press release
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FIDH strongly condemns the politically-motivated exclusion of Cambodia’s main opposition party from the upcoming general election, amid the government’s ongoing crackdown against its political opposition and critics. This exclusion has destabilised Cambodia’s electoral process and deprived Cambodians of their right to take part in public affairs.

Paris, 1 June 2023. On 16 May 2023, Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) - which is dominated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and led by a long-time member of the CPP’s Standing Committee - refused to register the Candlelight Party, claiming it had failed to submit proper documentation related to the party registration. The Candlelight Party subsequently filed an appeal with the Constitutional Council to overturn the NEC’s ruling. On 25 May 2023, the Constitutional Council, composed of five members of the CPP leadership, reached an unanimous decision that the NEC’s disqualification of the party was constitutional. This decision of the Constitutional Council was final.

“For almost four decades, Prime Minister Hun Sen has prevented the emergence of democracy in Cambodia. The disqualification of the Candlelight Party over a technicality shows, once again, that Hun Sen is determined to prolong his rule. The international community must not recognise the legitimacy of the upcoming election and its predictable outcome” said Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General.

The election for the 125 members of the National Assembly is scheduled for 23 July 2023. Out of the 20 political parties that tried to register for the election, 18 were permitted by the NEC to contest the polls. However, after the Candlelight Party’s disqualification, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP faces no serious challenges in the polls and Hun Sen himself is set to further extend his 38-year rule or pass power to his chosen successor - his son and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander Hun Manet.

The upcoming election is set to be a replication of the scenario in the previous general election, held in July 2018. Ahead of those polls, the then-main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved by the CPP-influenced Supreme Court in November 2017. The Candlelight Party, which emerged in the wake of the CNRP’s dissolution as its alter ego and the sole viable opposition to the CPP, witnessed rising popularity and won more than 1.6 million votes (or about 22%) in the June 2022 commune elections.

The disqualification of the Candlelight Party is the latest in a series of acts to systemically repress the emergence of a main opposition party, which have included attempted murder, physical and sexual assault, arrest, judicial persecution, intimidation, and harassment against its members and supporters. Twelve Candlelight Party leaders, elected representatives, and members are currently detained. In addition, in March 2023, former CNRP President Kem Sokha was convicted on politically-motivated charges of “treason”, sentenced to 27 years in prison, and placed under house arrest, in lieu of being incarcerated in the prison system. He is barred from communicating with anybody beyond his immediate family without court approval.

FIDH calls on the members of the international community to reassess their direct cooperation with the Cambodian government and to increase support and protection for civil society in the country.

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