Updated: CPP Sues Candlelight Party Leader for $1M

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Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay joins a party rally in Preah Vihear province in May 2022. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
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Opposition allegations of vote-stealing have sparked a $1-million lawsuit by the ruling CPP filed to court this morning.

Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay is the target of the CPP’s complaint, stamped by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at 9:35 a.m.

Plang Sophal, spokesperson for the municipal court’s prosecutors’ office, said the court had received the complaint and it was now being processed.

The complaint, signed by lawyer Ky Tech, said Chhay had impacted the CPP’s honor during an interview with Washington-based online media Cambodia Daily — formerly a local newspaper — and demanded 4 billion riel (about $1 million) in damages.

Excerpts from the June 7 interview cited by the complaint include Chhay alleging stolen votes. “This result doesn’t reflect the will of the people, only intimidation, vote buying — there’s stealing — so it remains like this,” Chhay is quoted as saying.

The complaint also cites Chhay as saying that some, but not all, of the people’s will had been lost. “We don’t want to compare it to a thief stealing a cow, [but] even when they steal three cows we don’t allow them to steal [all] five cows. This is speaking in a simple way, this is about the will of the people.”

Chhay’s remarks were “dishonest, exaggerates the truth, provides false information, ill-intentioned,” the complaint said.

Chhay could not be immediately reached on Tuesday.

Thach Setha, another Candlelight vice president, said Chhay had left for Australia over the weekend and that any dispute over Chhay’s comments should be dealt with at the NEC and not in the courts.

“It must be solved through the NEC,” he said. “And secondly, it is a normal thing in a competition when one competitor is unhappy. They express their views and it is just rhetoric. When we take this as a lawsuit, it is not right.”

In a speech earlier this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen seemingly responded to Chhay’s accusations by lambasting people who claimed the vote was stolen and demanding they show the CPP and the NEC how voter fraud was committed. His comment did not specifically mention Chhay or the Candlelight.

“Whether the NEC or CPP have stolen it, please show your face and teach us the way it was stolen. Because the voting was right there, the counting was right there and the observers were right there … how have [the votes] been stolen?” Hun Sen said, speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday.

The prime minister said he would not entertain any requests for negotiations and asked other political parties to negotiate with the NEC instead.

The ruling CPP won nearly 75% of the vote in the June 5 commune election. The opposition Candlelight Party won around 22% of the vote, but has alleged intimidation of voters and election-day irregularities.

A day earlier on Monday, the National Election Committee also warned in a statement that it would take legal action against Chhay. His interview has led to confusion and loss of confidence in the election, the statement said, adding that he could be fined 10 to 20 million riel, or up to $5,000, under the commune election law.

Meanwhile, the NEC said it had received 192 complaints about the election as of Monday — up significantly from 85 through Thursday.

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said the complaints would all still be resolved by June 25.

Candlelight’s Setha said his party had filed 101 complaints so far, calling the alleged closed-door counting of ballots last Sunday “systematic.”

“We just want to show that the irregularities were real,” Setha said.

Grassroots Democratic Party president Yeng Virak echoed Thach Setha’s concerns about election irregularities.

Additional Reporting by Morm Moniroth and Ouch Sony

Updated at 6:27 p.m. with NEC warnings for Chhay and election complaints filed.

Updated at 4:44 p.m. with Son Chhay’s whereabouts and Hun Sen’s earlier speech.

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