Cambodia holds nationwide local elections on Sunday, June 5. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen is the only political party big enough to run candidates in all 1,652 rural and urban council precincts across Cambodia. Incumbency and patronage networks built up during Hun Sen’s 37 years in power give CPP candidates an advantage among the 86,000 hopefuls from 17 political parties competing for the 11,622 council seats up for grabs in the nation of 16 million people.
The June 5 election will test the dominance of the CPP and the limits of political freedom for its opponents five years into Hun Sen’s extensive crackdown on civil society, media and the internet.
Election watchers are paying close attention to the largest opposition group, the Candlelight Party, which dates back to 1995 but was merged with the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in a coalition of pro-democracy forces.
The Candlelight Party, formed by longtime Hun Sen rival Sam Rainsy, has risen from the ashes of the CNRP, whose strong showing in previous communal council elections in 2017 prompted Hun Sen to dissolve the party, paving the way for his CPP to win all 125 parliamentary seats in 2018. It has faced continuous harassment from local authorities believed to be affiliated with the CPP during the 2022 campaign.
Ahead of the elections, a group of 64 civil society organizations in Cambodia called on the government to meet a set of conditions for legitimacy: a free political environment; full political rights, including the right to stand for elections; protection of the will of the voters and the right to vote; an independent National Election Committee; independent and neutral armed forces and courts; allowing civil society and allowing an independent media to function.
Meanwhile, the United States, European Union and the United Nations have consistently urged Cambodia to re-open civic, political and media space ahead of the elections by ensuring inclusive political participation by all stakeholders and dropping questionable charges against political prisoners. The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution warning that Cambodia could lose its trade privileges with the EU if the elections are found to be unfair.
1. May 21-June 3, 2022: The 14-day election campaign
2. June 5, 2022: Election Day, the vote count, and posting of provisional results at polling stations
3. June 11-25, 2022: Appeals accepted against provisional election results
4. June 26, 2022: Official results announced
5. July 25, 2022: Elections to be rerun, if needed
• At least 300 commune council candidates from the Candlelight Party, Khmer Will Party and Beehive Social Democratic Party were removed from standing for the election for actions, including forging thumbprints, claiming fake qualifications, or their biography.
• The Interior Ministry refused to register the Cambodia National Heart Party after accusing the party’s founder, Seam Pluk, of receiving overseas financial support from Sam Rainsy. Pluk is being held in pre-trial detention after being charged with forging documents for his party registration.
• At least five candidates from the Candlelight Party have been imprisoned ahead of the election campaign, while other candidates have been coerced into withdrawing their candidacies to avoid legal charges or prosecution.
• A suspicious politically motivated killing of the Candlelight Party’s vice-chief for Phnom Penh’s Chhbar Ampov district, Choeun Sarim.
• Over 60 political prisoners are being held in pre-trial detention, while political activists affiliated with the CNRP –– as well as social, environmental and labor activists –– face arrest, detention and unlawful confinement.