For the second time in two consecutive parliamentary elections, Cambodia has disqualified the country’s main opposition party, eliminating the only credible challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.
The country’s National Election Commission on Monday refused to register the party, the Candlelight Party, for a general election scheduled for July, saying it had failed to file the necessary papers and was therefore ineligible. participate in the competition.
Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party currently holds all 125 seats in Parliament after government-controlled courts dissolved its main challenger, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, or CNRP, ahead of 2018. that election. The Candlelight Party, with many of the same members, replaced it.
Opposition party members said they would appeal the Election Commission’s decision. After the dissolution of the CNRP in 2017, Mr. Hun Sen acted on several fronts to neutralize the remaining opposition. Government-controlled courts have convicted about 100 opposition figures of treason and other charges, jailing some and prompting some of its leaders to flee into exile.
The most prominent opposition figure remaining in Cambodia, Kem Sokha, was tried for treason and sentenced in March to 27 years under house arrest. In February, the government shut down a popular news outlet, Voice of Democracy, claiming it had published a false report. It is one of the few remaining publications that provides critical coverage of the government.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission said at the time that “these actions seriously undermine the civic and political space, including the environment for free and fair elections in July.” Last month, Human Rights Watch accused the Cambodian government of intensifying verbal attacks that led to violent attacks on members of the Candlelight Party.
“Disbanding opposition parties and disqualifying, attacking and arresting their members before election day means there won’t be any real elections,” it said in a statement.
Candlelight Party members said the Election Commission has requested original copies of the party’s official documents, which they say they no longer have because they were seized in a police raid in 2017.
After their decision, the Election Commission said it has approved the registration of more than 10 other parties. These parties include those aligned with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or small, obscure parties that do not pose a serious election challenge to the prime minister.
Mr. Hun Sen, 70, held power for 38 years, eliminating the opposition through the courts, through election manipulation, through violence and intimidation, and a coup in 1997. He anointed his eldest son. man, Army chief Hun Manet, to replace him and indicated that the transition of power to the family will follow this year’s elections in July.
“This is a very dangerous year for Hun Sen,” Sam Rainsy, a prominent opposition leader, wrote from exile in an essay published online earlier this month. “This is the year he decided to build a political dynasty after the election,” he wrote.