Main opposition party delays election protest following threat from Cambodia’s leader

Cambodia’s main opposition Candlelight Party has delayed plans for a demonstration following a public threat from Prime Minister Hun Sen to jail the party’s vice president and other members.

Organizers had hoped that 10,000 people would march through the streets of Phnom Penh to protest against the National Election Committee’s decision to keep the party off the ballot for the July 23 parliamentary elections.

But top party officials decided on Friday to hold off on submitting a permit request to municipal authorities, according to Candlelight Party Vice President Rong Chhun, who disagreed with the decision.

“We need to respect the majority,” he said. “But if we do nothing, we will have zero result. If we protest we will have another option. If we stay still, no one will hand over a champion.”

On Wednesday, Hun Sen accused Rong Chhun of being the mastermind behind many protests over the last few decades.

“When Hun Sen speaks, he acts,” the prime minister said at a bridge inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh. “Please try me if you dare, you can come out now. I will handcuff you immediately and I won’t keep you in Phnom Penh. I will send you to be detained in a remote province.”

The prime minister also sarcastically urged Rong Chhun to get married so that his children will lead protests in the future.

The right to peacefully assemble

In response, Rong Chhun told Radio Free Asia that everyone should respect the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which is guaranteed by Cambodia’s Constitution.

He said the protest will be peaceful and he urged Hun Sen to be an open minded leader who respects the opinions of others when they don’t agree with government decisions.

The NEC last month blocked the Candlelight Party from appearing on the ballot, citing inadequate paperwork. Party members cried foul, pointing out that the party was allowed to compete in last year’s local commune elections with the same documentation.

The Constitutional Council upheld the committee’s decision on May 25, a ruling that means the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won’t have any major challengers on the ballot.

“The election consists of 18 parties and will proceed smoothly,” CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told RFA. “The Candlelight Party is walking backward. It is its own fault but it blames others.”

United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said at Wednesday’s noon briefing in New York that Cambodia should hold an inclusive election “in which a plurality of views and voter choices is represented so that there is “confidence in the electoral process.”

The executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition, Ros Sotha, urged the government to intervene with the NEC to resolve the Candlelight Party’s status. The government should listen to the international community and Cambodians who want the opposition party to take part in the election, he said.

“There should be a solution. This is a collective Khmer issue,” he said. “We’ve been having political issues for many years, what we need is long term peace and development.”

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