A senior National Assembly (NA) member told 31 diplomats from embassies in Cambodia that the Candlelight Party may gain 20 or more seats in the NA through the parliamentary election in 2023 – based on the support for the party shown at the June 5 commune council elections.

Following his consultation meeting with the diplomats, Suos Yara – chairman of the NA Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Propaganda and Information – told reporters on June 8 that the NA is now dominated completely by the presence of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), but given the election outcome this year he expects that the Candlelight Party will be able to establish its presence in the parliamentary body in next year’s national election.

“According to our projections, we’d estimate that they will gain 20 or 21 seats. But if we use a different formula to calculate the outcomes, it may be more than that. Ten to 20 seats are a significant amount for any party. So, what we will have to do is collaborate with them and implement the principles of democracy in an honest manner without putting any foreigners first,” he said.

He added that the government – and especially the NA – played a role as a bridge to unify the nation, keep the peace and bring about reconciliation. He said that in terms of the nations of the Mekong region, Cambodia has easily had the most success in maintaining its stability and respecting multi-party democratic principles as required by the Cambodian Constitution.

However, Yara said that his prediction shouldn’t be taken as fact because it was only based on the commune council elections and it wasn’t the same as voting in a national election.

He said that Cambodia’s message for the diplomats was that the numbers indicate that given the recent elections indicators for the Candlelight Party they should be able to gain some seats in the NA, but they could suffer a drop in support if they don’t continue to work hard and strive to gain supporters before next year’s national election.

Candlelight Party vice-presidents Thach Setha and Son Chhay could not be reached for comment on June 8.

Labour rights advocate and executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) Moeun Tola said on June 8 that given the momentum of support for the Candlelight party it could garner the second-most number of votes after the CPP like it managed to do at the commune council elections.

“Given their momentum, and Yara mentioned it already, but we do not know the exact number of seats they will gain yet. But what is important for now is that the electoral system should be revised in terms of creating an open atmosphere for the election campaigns to ensure that there is no persecution – not only of the Candlelight party, but other parties should be ensured they will face no persecution,” he said.

Tola said that despite the Candlelight Party possibly gaining representation in the NA next year, Cambodia has yet to achieve full democracy until there are real contested elections with guarantees of trust for all sides and revisions to some of the laws and regulations to make participation by all parties possible on an open and equal basis.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesperson Hang Puthea said the NEC could not predict whether any party will garner votes or gain seats, but the NEC is a body that holds a free, fair, transparent and democratic election without exception and obeys the election laws the same way.

He added that Yara’s statements were just an expression of his individual views and what the NEC must do is ensure that the elections are acceptable to all parties and run strictly according to the law.

According to data obtained by The Post from the NEC, the CPP received 5,377,754 total votes, or about 74.32 per cent of all ballots cast. Candlelight Party received 1,610,434 total votes, or about 22.26 per cent of all votes cast in the commune elections.