Candlelight Wants Foreign Pressure to Help Resolve Political Dispute

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A Candlelight Party anniversary celebration on November 27, 2022. (Thach Setha’s Facebook page)

The under-pressure Candlelight Party said on Wednesday it would rely on foreign countries to promote fair elections in Cambodia, and it did not consider public demonstrations to be beneficial.

After Candlelight’s vice president Thach Setha was arrested on Monday amid a series of threats against the party, another vice president, Son Chhay, said the party would rely on other countries to help demand a better situation in Cambodia including respect for human rights and free and fair elections in line with a multiparty democracy.

He appealed in particular to the signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which restored democracy to Cambodia after years of civil war. Signatory countries include Vietnam, China, Japan, the U.K., U.S. and France.

Chhay said Candlelight wanted to arrange talks with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to negotiate Setha’s release.

He said that having observed Cambodian politics since 1993, he believed that protests, strikes and demonstrations did not tend to give positive results compared to talking.

“So we have to consider the actuality and what can be done and what can be beneficial,”  Chhay said.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the party said it had resolved to demand that the ruling party end its pressure, threats and political persecution; make the party more effective; and appeal to the Paris signatories to urge the respect of democracy in Cambodia.

Party lawyer Sam Sokong said Setha’s arrest for bouncing checks stemmed from $20,000 he had borrowed in 2011 or 2012 and for which he had missed some repayments.

“The size of the arrest and the prohibition of freedom, meaning his imprisonment, does not match with the actual damage,” Sokong said.

The plaintiff had already sued Setha before, and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dropped the case, Sokong said.

“If they have used the same facts in relation to the issuing of the bouncing checks, it will overlap on the same facts,” he said, adding that plaintiffs should not be able to sue twice on the same grounds.

The plaintiff in the current case is Rin Chhay Pawn Shop, which is owned by Hay Vanrin, a business associate of the wife of Prime Minister’s son Hun Manith.

Meanwhile, Sokong said the Information Ministry had posted a fake Candlelight statement to its Facebook page on Tuesday.

The statement posted by the ministry, featuring the party’s letterhead, said: “The Candlelight Party thinks the arrest and imprisonment of Thach Setha is correct and in line with legal procedures in Cambodia with no connection to political matters.”

Sokong said the statement was a fake.

“That information is not true and it could be someone created it to cause chaos and surprise inside the party,” he said.

The Information Ministry has since removed the post.

The ministry’s spokesperson Meas Sophorn and broadcasting director Phos Sovann could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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