Cambodian authorities say opposition activist can’t participate in campaign

Rong Chhun’s 2021 conviction means he can’t go to political events ahead of Sunday’s Senate election.
By RFA Khmer
2024.02.20
Cambodian authorities say opposition activist can’t participate in campaign Rong Chhun, an adviser for Cambodia’s National Power Party, participates in a campaign event on Feb. 18, 2024.
(Facebook/National Power Party)

The National Election Committee said opposition activist Rong Chhun and his newly formed political party are banned from campaigning ahead of this Sunday’s Senate election, citing his 2021 criminal conviction.

Rong Chhun campaigned in northwestern Banteay Meanchey province and met with hundreds of supporters of the Nation Power Party in Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang provinces over the last week.

The prominent labor activist and the former vice president of the opposition Candlelight Party announced in November that he would join the Nation Power Party as a senior adviser.

His recent campaigning prompted the National Election Committee, or NEC, to remind provincial election committees that he can’t legally engage in campaign activity because of the 2021 conviction, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

Rong Chhun was sentenced to two years in prison for a conviction that stemmed from his criticism of the government for not addressing border disputes with Vietnam.

He was freed from prison in 2022, but the government has said he can’t campaign for candidates or participate in other political activities for a five-year period after his release.

Election committees in a number of provinces, including Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang, followed up with notification letters sent to the Nation Power Party on Monday.

“His internal actions are his internal affairs,” Hang Puthea told RFA. “But the provincial election committees have had to remind the party to avoid any confusion in regard to Rong Chhun.” 

Voters will choose 58 senators from eight constituencies in Sunday’s election.

In May, the NEC ruled Rong Chhun ineligible for the ballot ahead of the July 23 national election. He would have been listed as the Candlelight Party’s top candidate in Kandal province, opposite then-Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Later in May, the NEC ruled that the Candlelight Party couldn’t field any candidates for the National Assembly in the July election, citing inadequate paperwork. 

That led to Rong Chhun’s decision to join the Nation Power Party, which he called a “party for youths and the younger generation.”

Rong Chhun told RFA he should have the right to conduct political activities despite the criminal conviction. He said the party will review the NEC’s statements on his case before taking any action.

“To restore the country’s reputation, the government must allow politicians and people to have full freedom in order to welcome the international community,” he said. “If the government continues to restrict people’s freedom and politicians, the national community will condemn [the government].”

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.

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