Cambodia’s top opposition party banned from taking part in July elections

Phnom Penh, Cambodia –

Cambodia’s top opposition party on Thursday was barred from participating in elections set for July after the Constitutional Council refused to overturn its decision not to register the party because of a paperwork issue.

The Candlelight Party, the only credible opponent to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in upcoming polls, lost the case because its complaint was deemed illegal, the council said in a statement. brief.

The decision is final and cannot be appealed.

The Cambodian court is considered to be under the influence of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and his Cambodian People’s Party.

The National Election Commission on May 16 refused to register the Candlelight Party, saying it failed to provide the necessary documents. A few days later, the party formally filed an appeal to the Constitutional Council asking to annul the election commission’s decision.

Kimsour Phirith, a spokesman for the Candlelight Party, said he “regrets” Thursday’s decision because it prevents party supporters across the country from being able to vote for their preferred candidates.

Kimsour Phirith said: “The absence of the (Candlelight Party) in the election means that the voice of the people is eliminated. Such a move will never happen in a truly democratic country.”

The US State Department said it would not send official observers to witness the election and was “deeply concerned” by the decision to ban the Candlelight Party from participating.

Spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement: “The politically motivated legal actions, threats, harassment and criminal accusations target opposition parties, independent media and civil society. undermine Cambodia’s international commitments to develop as a multi-party democracy”.

It called on Cambodian authorities to “reverse the course to ensure their citizens can participate in a fair, multi-party democracy.”

About 9.7 million Cambodians registered to vote in the July 23 election to elect 125 members of the National Assembly. Eighteen political parties have been registered and recognized by the election commission, but the absence of the Candlelight Party leaves only Hun Sen’s party, its allies and minor parties lacking a nationwide presence to run for election.

The Cambodian People’s Party has held power for decades and controls almost every level of government. Hun Sen, 70, an authoritarian ruler in a nominally democratic country, has held his post for 38 years.

He and his party held every advantage of incumbency ahead of the election, with domination of political organization, personnel, finances and media influence. Hun Sen’s eldest son, army chief Hun Manet, is expected to replace his father as prime minister after the election.

The Candlelight Party is the unofficial successor to the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which posed a serious challenge to Hun Sen’s party before the 2018 elections. It was disbanded just months before the election. elected by a controversial court ruling alleging that it had unlawfully conspired to overthrow the government.

The dissolution of the party allowed the ruling party to win all the seats in the National Assembly. Western nations declared the elections neither free nor fair, and imposed mild economic sanctions in response.

Most of the prominent opposition members are currently living in exile to avoid being jailed for a variety of crimes they consider fabricated and unfair.

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