The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has dismissed remarks by critics regarding the National Election Committee’s (NEC) decision to disqualify the Candlelight Party (CP) from the July 23 general election. The ministry said the comments by “a handful of critics” were “misleading and politically motivated”.

On May 15, NEC officially rejected the CP’s application for party and candidate registration ahead of the election. The committee said the opposition CP failed to submit “certified documents” of party registration issued by the Ministry of Interior.

It explained that all political parties wishing to contest the upcoming election are required to have their party registration documentation certified at the One Window Service Office in the respective district where their party headquarters is located and attach the documents in their submission to the NEC for validation.

The rejection was described by some, including the EU, as “shrinking democratic space” in Cambodia.

Foreign ministry spokesman An Sokkhoeun said in a May 16 press statement that NEC do not have any preferential treatment for any certain political party.

He said the NEC’s move was to ensure a free, fair, just and transparent voting process.

“The very fact of this registration failure relates to incomplete documentation and such a shortcoming should be borne by that political party’s leadership as admitted by one of its vice-presidents,” he said.

Sokkhoeun stressed that the absence of one political party from the electoral process due to its negligence in complying with the legislation does not affect the liberal, pluralistic and democratic nature of the country, saying voters can still choose freely among at least 18 contesting political parties.