Cambodian govt nixes party application twice, with no clear reason

The ministry of interior cited a missing signature for one and simply denied the other.
By RFA Khmer
2023.10.18
Cambodian govt nixes party application twice, with no clear reason Cambodia’s Interior Minister Sar Sokha gave no reason for rejecting the Puppet Party in a letter dated Oct. 6.
Heng Sinith/AP file photo

They’re trying to form a new political party, but the Cambodian government won’t hear of it.

For a second time, the Ministry of the Interior rejected an application by a group of 80 students and intellectuals to form a party after the government blocked the main opposition Candlelight Party from running in July’s general elections on a technicality.

No reason was given in the Oct. 6 letter signed by Interior Minister Sar Sokha, said Em Sok Sovann, a representative of the would-be Khmer Servant Party.

“This rejection makes me sad; I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” he said. “What do I need to correct … for me to meet their requirements?”

“Eighty of us agreed to form a political party to help strengthen the multi-party liberal democracy enshrined in the constitution,” he said.

The group’s initial application – to form the Khmer Puppet Party – was turned down in a Sept. 12 letter that said the ministry’s ruling was based on its “failure to include the founder’s signature” along with a list of its 80 founding members.

In response, Em Sok Sovann sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior requesting a meeting with Sar Sokha to discuss what was wrong with the applications and how to proceed according to ministry requirements. 

He and fellow applicants consider the two rejections “unconstitutional” and are calling for Sar Sokha to review their applications.

As of Wednesday, he had received no response.

Eliminating rivals

The rejections are the latest bid by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to eliminate its political rivals. The CPP has used other tactics – including onerous bureaucracy, legal technicalities, and intimidation – to keep would-be competitors off of the country’s ballots and maintain its grip on power.

In September, authorities detained 23 people, including six members of Cambodia’s opposition Candlelight Party, or CLP, for holding a rally to collect enough people’s fingerprints to register a new opposition party, the Panha Tumnerp – or Intellectual Modern – Party.

Former Banteay Meanchey Provincial CLP Secretary Suon Khemrin, who was among those arrested, said that while in detention, police questioned him about who was behind the new party. He told them he had only seen a letter from the Ministry of Interior granting the right to form the Tumnerp Party and requiring enough fingerprints to register the party within 180 days, according to the country’s political party law.

Suon Khemrin was released along with 16 others after more than 30 hours in custody, but told to first sign “a document that was noticeably vague in its wording.”

Some explanation needed

According to the Law on Political Parties, any Cambodian citizen who is aged 18 or older and is a permanent resident of the country has the right to form a political party simply by notifying the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior must reply in writing that it has received the notification within 15 days.

The law states that in order to be valid, political parties must apply for registration with at least 4,000 members, depending on the province where the party is based.

ENG_KHM-PuppetParty_10182023.2.jpg
Supporters of Cambodian People’s Party participate in a campaign rally in Phnom Penh, July 21, 2023. As the country’s ruling party, it uses various tactics – including an onerous bureaucracy, legal technicalities, and intimidation – to maintain its grip on power. Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

RFA contacted Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak to ask for additional details about the rejection of Em Sok Sovann’s party applications.

He said that the ministry “always provides a clear reason” for denying the right to form a political party, but asked for time to review applications before he could comment further.

“I’ll note that the name ‘Khmer Puppet’ is no good,” he said. “But, let me check with those in charge of the case first.”

Korn Savang, the investigation and advocacy coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, or COMFREL, told RFA that if there was a technical problem with Em Sok Sovann’s applications, the Ministry of Interior should provide him with instructions on how to remedy them.

However, if the ministry rejected his applications without giving an adequate reason, he said, it acted in violation of the law.

Winning on technicalities

Last week, the CLP – the only party that could have mounted a serious challenge to the CPP in July’s general elections – announced it will join with three smaller parties in an “Alliance Toward the Future” that will aim to field candidates in the 2027 local commune elections and the 2028 general election.

In May, the National Election Committee disqualified the party because it did not have the original registration form issued by the Ministry of Interior. With no real opposition, the CPP swept the parliamentary vote.

The announcement of the alliance comes after Candlelight officials had exhausted efforts to ask the ministry to reissue its original party’s registration. Last month, ministry officials again denied the party’s request to reissue a registration letter so that it could participate in future elections. 

That document was lost in 2017 when the offices of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, were raided by government agents. Without the document, the Candlelight Party cannot compete in elections, leaving the country without a viable opposition party.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, COMFREL’s Korn Savang called on the Ministry of Interior, when reviewing party applications and registrations, to “make sure it doesn’t lose their documents.”

Translated by Sum, Sok Ry. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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Sambo
Oct 18, 2023 05:03 PM

Is that guy half Thai? Why he call us slave? Is he trolling? Khmer Puppet Party? Then Khmer Slave Party? That's very unprofessional. He should use something more appropriate.