The National Election Committee (NEC) this week rejected all candidates from the opposition Candlelight Party in six Phnom Penh communes.
The committee is holding daily hearings over candidate lists, and has been disqualifying opposition candidates for being illiterate or not filling out their own candidacy documents.
In some communes around the country, parties like Candlelight and the Khmer Will Party have lost individual candidates; in others, entire lists have been canceled over violations, a measure previously considered unusual.
The Candlelight Party, formerly the Sam Rainsy Party, submitted candidates in all but three of the 1,652 communes nationwide to become the second-largest party behind the ruling CPP.
Sam Rainsy, a long-time opposition figure, is in exile in France with a slew of court convictions against him — including for an accusation of plotting to overthrow the government.
Last week, the NEC removed all Candlelight candidates from Boeng Keng Kang district’s Toul Svay Prey I commune.
This week on Thursday, the NEC ruled to dissolve the Candlelight Party’s candidate lists in Chroy Changva district’s Prek Liep, Toul Kork district’s Phsar Doeum Kor and Prampi Makara district’s Monorom. Candidates did not know how to read and write, or had others fill their candidacy documents on their behalf, the NEC said.
On Friday, it removed all Candlelight candidates from Chbar Ampov district’s Kbal Koh, and upheld a municipal election committee decision to reject the party’s submission of candidates in Toul Kork’s Phsar Depot I and Prampi Makara’s O’Russei I.
NEC spokesperson Som Sorida said the procedure would potentially continue until April 24 as long as there were complaints to process. So far, 147 complaints had been filed about registrations and potential removal of candidates, he said.
Candlelight Party president Thach Setha said the committee was not being transparent or presenting clear evidence for the removals, which showed political bias.
“They’re removing us to prevent us from competing like the dissolved CNRP,” he said. “We cannot participate because they are dissolving us in the whole commune.”
The main opposition CNRP, formed as a merger between the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, was banned by the Supreme Court in 2017.
If some candidates were found to have violated rules, they should be removed individually, not by withdrawing entire lists from communes, Setha said.
“There was a mistake among one or two out of 22, 18, or 14 people and they dissolved the list — this is completely politically motivated,” Setha said.
“If they continue like this, we will consider a boycott.”
Candlelight and other opposition parties have also alleged there have been threats and intimidation against their candidates in recent weeks.
Sorida, of the NEC, said “we cannot generally notice that there is authority pressure” and suggested those parties file complaints if there were cases of intimidation.