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Cambodian election authority removes opposition candidates from list

Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) has removed more than 100 candidates from the opposition Candlelight Party from the list of those running in the country’s commune elections on June 5, the party’s vice president said Friday.

The party, which has threatened to boycott the vote because of political harassment of its members and activists by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), has accused the NEC of abusing election law.

Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha said NEC president Prach Chan on Thursday removed all candidates in Phnom Penh and Pursat and Kampong Cham provinces from the candidate list, and accused election authorities of not complying with the law by failing to call witnesses to be questioned amid complaints filed by CPP against the Candelight Party.

“He didn’t make any mistake. It is a violation of the election law,” Thach Setha said.

Party officials say they have been falsely accused of using fake names for candidates and putting forward some candidates for election without their permission. CCP complains have accused Candlelight Party candidates of being illiterate and submitting documents without thumbprints or signatures.

The NEC decision has left the CPP candidate without main competitors in the capital, Phnom Penh. The NEC also removed the name of the son of Eng Chhai Eang, vice president of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) from the candidate list, Thach Setha said.

The Candlelight Party, formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party and the Khmer Nation Party, was founded in 1995 and merged with other opposition forces to form the CNRP in 2012.

In November 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in a move that allowed the CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 election.

Election authorities based their binding decision on evidence and hearings after finding irregularities on the candidate lists, while some candidates during the hearing asked the NEC to remove their names from the lists, said NEC spokesman Hang Puthea.

“Upon receiving the complaints, we held public hearings,” he said.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said the NEC failed to present evidence and witnesses during the hearings.

He also said the decision by the NEC — a theoretically independent agency that supervises the country’s elections, but is believed to be influenced by the CCP — to remove opposition candidates was an attempt to find weak points to prevent the Candlelight Party as the main threat to the CCP from participating in the elections.

“The party that has popularity draws attention,” he said. “I want [the NEC] to comply with the law.”

Meanwhile, Phnom Penh authorities arrested four Candlelight Party activists but later released three and sent one to Prey Sar Prison.

Yok Neang, former leader of the CNRP’s Women Movement who recently joined the Candlelight Party, was arrested Friday and sent to the jail, her son, Ouch Vannarith, told RFA.

She was speaking with other political opposition activists when police arrested them and has been charged with treason over a failed attempt by exiled CNRP leader Sam Rainsy in November 2019 to return to Cambodia to lead nonviolent protests against Hun Sen.

At least two other Candlelight Party activists are being detained in Pursat province.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.