For the second consecutive parliamentary election, Cambodia has disqualified the country’s main opposition party, removing 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 not submitted the required documentation and was therefore ineligible to run. participate in the contest.
Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party currently holds all 125 seats in Parliament after government-controlled courts dissolved its main rival, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, or CNRP, ahead of the elections in 2018. The Candlelight Party, with many of the same members, took its place.
Opposition party members said they would appeal the Election Commission’s ruling. After the dissolution of the CNRP in 2017, Mr. Hun Sen moved on several fronts to neutralize the remaining opposition. Government-controlled courts convicted some 100 opposition figures on treason and other charges, jailing some and causing several of their 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 of house arrest. In February, the government shut down a popular news outlet, Voice of Democracy, alleging that it had published a false report. It was one of the few remaining publications to provide critical coverage of the government.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights said at the time that “these actions seriously undermine civic and political space, including the environment for free and fair elections in July.” Last month, Human Rights Watch accused the Cambodian government of escalating verbal attacks that had led to violent attacks against members of the Candlelight Party.
“Dismantling opposition parties and disqualifying, assaulting and arresting their members before election day means there will be no real election at all,” he said in a statement.
Members of the Candlelight Party said the Election Commission had demanded original copies of official party documents, which they said they no longer had because they had been seized in a police raid in 2017.
After its ruling, the Electoral Commission said it had approved the registration of more than 10 other parties. These parties included those aligned with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or small, obscure parties that do not pose a serious electoral challenge to the prime minister.
Mr. Hun Sen, 70, has held power for 38 years, eliminating the opposition through the courts, through electoral rigging, through violence and intimidation, and a coup in 1997. He has anointed his eldest son, army chief Hun Manet, to succeed him. and he has indicated that the transition of family power would follow the elections in July of this year.
“This is a very dangerous year for Hun Sen,” Sam Rainsy, a prominent opposition leader, wrote from exile in an essay posted online earlier this month. “It is the year that he decided to establish a political dynasty immediately after the elections,” he wrote.