Cambodia’s main opposition party loses appeal over registration, banned from contesting July elections

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s main opposition party was barred from taking part in elections scheduled for July on Thursday after the Constitutional Council refused to overturn a decision not to register the party over a paperwork problem.

The Candlelight Party, the only credible challenger to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the upcoming polls, lost its appeal because its complaint was deemed illegal, the council said in a brief statement.

The decision is final and without appeal.

Cambodian courts are widely believed to be under the influence of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and his Cambodian People’s Party.

On May 16, the National Election Commission refused to register the Candlelight Party, saying it had failed to provide the necessary documents. A few days later, the party officially lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Council asking it to annul the decision of the electoral commission.

Kimsour Phirith, a spokesperson for the Candlelight Party, said he “regrets” Thursday’s decision because it prevents party supporters nationwide from voting for their favorite candidates.

“The absence of the (Candlelight Party) in the elections means that the voices of the people are rejected. Such a decision would never happen in a truly democratic country,” said Kimsour Phirith.

Eighteen political parties are registered and recognized by the electoral committee, including Hun Sen’s party.

The Cambodian People’s Party has held an iron grip on power for decades and controls almost all levels of government. Hun Sen, 70, an authoritarian leader in a nominally democratic state, has held office for 38 years. His eldest son, army chief Hun Manet, is expected to replace his father as prime minister after the election.

The Candlelight Party is the unofficial successor to the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which threatened to present a serious challenge to Hun Sen’s party in the 2018 elections. But it was disbanded just months before the election by a controversial court ruling that said he had plotted the illegal overthrow of the government.

The dissolution of the party allowed the ruling party to win all seats in the National Assembly. Western nations said the election was neither free nor fair and imposed mild economic sanctions in response.

About 9.7 million Cambodians are registered to vote in the July 23 elections for the 125 members of the National Assembly.

With the Candlelight Party banned from participating in elections, the only competition for the ruling party will be groups aligned with it, or small shadowy parties with no national presence.

Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party are guaranteed to easily lead the polls, holding all the advantages of the mandate. They are dominant in terms of national organization, personnel, finances and influence with the media.

Most prominent members of the opposition are in self-imposed exile to avoid imprisonment on various charges they deem to be false and unfair.


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