Three parties have registered and six more have made a required deposit of 15 million riel to compete in the July national election, according to the National Election Committee, with ten days to go until registration finishes.
In addition to the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party, the two parties that have submitted the required paperwork are the Cambodian Nationality Party and Cambodian Youth Party. Both of the small parties urged the Supreme Court to dissolve the Kingdom’s former main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, in November, and supported the arrest of its then-president Kem Sokha on treason charges in September. Sokha has been held in Tbong Khmum province’s Trapaing Phlong Prison ever since.
According to NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom, six additional parties have made the necessary 15 million riel deposit at the National Bank of Cambodia. They are Funcinpec, the League for Democracy Party, Khmer National United Party, Beehive Social Democratic Party, New Light Party and Khmer Economic Development Party, Sovannarom said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen lauded the registrations in a Facebook post on Friday, also taking the opportunity to criticise exiled former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for encouraging voters to boycott the election.
Echoing legal threats made by the National Election Committee on Wednesday, the premier said that Rainsy’s call violated both the Constitution and Article 142 of the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly, which says it is illegal to “deter” citizens from registering to vote or to cause “confusion resulting in the loss of confidence in the election”.
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Election law expert Yoeurng Sotheara said Rainsy was walking a fine line if he continued to call for a boycott once campaigning and party registration began.
While deciding not to vote is protected by freedom of expression, “it is difficult to prove that your expression is individual while you are acting as head of an institution and your words very influence the public,” Sotheara said.
“To some extent, while you are acting in the status of an official, you have to be cautious with your expressions.”
Political commentator Meas Ny said that no law clearly forbade calling for an election boycott, and noted that it would be difficult to legally punish anyone who chose not to vote.
In an email, Rainsy defended his right to say that the public “should not take part in a fake election”.
“Citizens’ freedom of expression ... is enshrined in the Constitution, which overrules any of the CPP-inspired subsequent restrictive ‘laws’,” he wrote.
A version of the election law, which included the restrictions in question, was passed in March 2015 with support from CNRP lawmakers, including Rainsy himself, over the objections of election reform organisations.
Political blogger Noan Sereiboth said that the strength of the parties contesting the July election was more important than the total number.
“The question is whether people have a party that they trust to cast [a vote for], or not?” Sereiboth said, adding that he doubted any party other than the CNRP could realistically challenge the CPP.
“It has been an easy competition since the 1993 election for the CPP,” he added. “Without the strong opposition party, it sounds like not a good competition.”