Candlelight Leadership Calls for Calm After Hun Sen Threats

3 min read
Candlelight Party provincial heads meet with national leaders in Phnom Penh on January 23, 2023. (Candlelight Party Telegram)

Provincial heads for the Candlelight Party said they were asked to lower their rhetoric and refrain from personal criticisms of ruling party officials as the party grapples with threats made last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The prime minister threatened violence and lawsuits after Candlelight criticized the ruling party for persecuting the opposition, specifically pointing to the arrest of party vice president Thach Setha in an alleged check-bouncing case.

A virulent speech from Hun Sen last week had Candlelight apologizing for hurting the honor of the CPP and retracting the offending statement. Local-level Candlelight Party members, however, told VOD late last week that they were not in complete agreement with the party’s decision to backtrack.

On Monday, the party met with provincial committee members to discuss the political situation, according to a Candlelight post on Telegram.

Khem Mony Kosal, head of the Candleligh’s Pailin provincial committee, said senior party leaders spoke about toning down tensions between the two parties and to avoid attacking CPP officials.

“We will try to do whatever it takes to make our important activists to be patient … to avoid making the situation even more serious,” he said. “We can lower the rhetoric to avoid any clashes between each other.”

He said party members could still criticize the government as long as it wasn’t a direct reference to ruling party officials.

Mony Kosal felt the more heated speeches were being made at the national level and expected politicking to continue as usual at the grassroots.

Mai Hong Sreang, head of the party’s Preah Sihanouk committee, said political tensions in the province were unchanged by the aggressive talk in Phnom Penh, but that he would still convey the senior leadership’s message to his activists.

“Actually, the party has no intention to push politicians or political fighters to use any bad words against the ruling party. For the political environment, even with this heated [situation], we will still continue to go forward and keep our original goal,” he said.

Ly Meng, head of the Kandal provincial committee, said he attended the meeting but he directed questions about the meeting to party vice president Son Chhay. Eng Sroy, from Tbong Khmum, said he was invited but did not attend the meet. Sun Chanthy, from Kampong Thom, said he was late for the meeting and declined to comment on what was discussed.

Party president Teav Vannol, vice presidents Son Chhay and Chep Kim Eang and secretary-general Lee Sothearayuth could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan said it was heartening to hear Candlelight was asking its members to tone down their speeches.

“We want constructive criticism but we don’t want cursing, coloring or attacking,” he said.

The political situation took a turn in January as Hun Sen led the charge in increasingly violent threats against the opposition. The ruling party has filed incitement charges against Candlelight senior adviser Kong Korm, with Hun Sen forcing him to leave a home he had built on state land.

Chhay, the party’s vice president, is also appealing a defamation conviction where the Appeal Court ruled he has to pay the CPP $1 million in damages for alleging there was “vote stealing” in the June commune election.

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