Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 40 years, would practically contest unopposed in the country’s upcoming elections, since the embattled opposition Candlelight Party failed the appeal on their disqualification from the general elections.
The National Election Committee’s (NEC) decision to bar the opposition from running in the July election, was upheld by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, which examined the party’s appeal. Per the Constitution Council, the Committee’s decision to disqualify the party from the election was definitive.
The Candlelight Party, a smaller but a significant rival to the main opposition group, that was disbanded in 2017, was excluded from the forthcoming election due to a registration irregularity.
The nine-member tribunal reportedly ruled that the election committee’s decision to exclude the party was legal. Prom Vicheth Akara, the deputy secretary-general of the council, explained at a news conference that, “on a legal basis, we looked at the facts.”
In his words, “The NEC decision has complied with the constitution,” he also mentioned the 18 other political parties that had successfully registered for the election.
According to sources, the NEC had barred the Candlelight Party from contesting, because it presented a photocopy of the registration documents instead of its actual copy. “I think that democracy in Cambodia, it’s dead,” Candlelight Party chief Teav Vannol said, after the ruling was pronounced.
He added that demonstrations would be taken into consideration and that Candlelight Party leaders would convene to determine their next course of action.
The only viable alternative to Hun Sen’s nearly 40-year hold on power, has been excluded from the July election. This brings back memories of the 2017 ban on the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the Candlelight’s mother party, before of the most recent national election in 2018.
Since assuming office in 1985, Hun Sen, a former military leader with the communist Khmer Rouge rebel group, has systematically used waves of persecution against his political opponents. He has declared his son as his succession, when he leaves power. Hun Sen claims that, the Cambodian People’s Party would rule the country’s politics for centuries before any party could overthrow them.
Moreover, many officials and supporters of opposition parties in Cambodia, have vacated the country and gone into exile overseas. They have been tried in large-scale trials, and found guilty of treason, and conspiring with foreigners to overthrow Hun Sen.
In a trial that has been criticized for being extremely politicized, Kem Sokha, a co-founder of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party, was found culpable of treason and given a 27-year prison term in March. He remains in house confinement in the capital, Phnom Penh, serving out his prison term.
After the Candlelight Party was disqualified from the election, former opposition leader Mu Sochua, who has been living in exile for some time, declared that “the time to express concern and hope to reform the [Hun Sen] regime is over.”
Mu Sochua urged international governments, especially those that had ratified the Paris Accords that had ended major conflicts in Cambodia’s horrific civil war in 1991, to withhold their recognition of the Hun Sen administration until free and fair elections had been place. “No free and fair elections, therefore no recognition of the next government,” she said.
Professor Lee Morgenbesser of Griffith University, has argued that, before having a chance to win over the public, Hun Sen’s party needs to eliminate the electoral threat posed by the Candlelight Party.
According to him, the opposition party would only “allowed to participate to the extent they didn’t become a threat or popular enough, or sufficiently popular.” The professor also said the verdict epitomized Cambodia’s autocracy.
“It’s a one-party state with very little political rights and civil liberties, no independent media. At this stage, it’s closer to the North Koreas of the world, than democracy,” he said. “That’s how far along the spectrum it is,” Lee added.
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