Malin explained on November 12 that, as indicated in a letter from the justice ministry to the National Election Committee (NEC) in early May, it was evident that Chhun had not undergone the required rehabilitation, thus rendering him ineligible.

“A Supreme Court ruling also outlines specific conditions that Chhun must adhere to, and any violation could result in further legal action,” he said, adding that potential legal action would be taken at the court’s discretion.

Before joining the CP, Chhun was sentenced by Phnom Penh municipal court in August, 2021 to two years in prison and fined him two million riel ($500) for incitement.

The charge stemmed from a visit to the Vietnamese border in Tbong Khmum province on July 31, 2020, where he publicly asserted that a new border post encroached approximately 500m into Cambodian territory.

He was released on bail after serving one year, three months, and 11 days in prison, with the remaining portion suspended for three years, with conditions.

Chhun announced his resignation as CP vice-president and joined the NPP on November 9. He acknowledged that the court’s ruling had imposed several conditions on him, but said he believed it had not banned him from being involved in politics.

He pointed out that the Ministry of Interior had recognised his prior role as vice-president of the CP, but expressed surprise at the mention of his rehabilitation requirements.

“It is my understanding that the court’s conditions do not bar me from political involvement. They solely imposed restrictions on my international travel, said it would require court permission. In addition, if I relocate within the Kingdom I must report it to the authorities,” he said.

“In the past, while I was with the CP, the justice ministry said I was unable to run for election. Consequently, I voluntarily withdrew from the Kandal provincial ballot,” he added.

Chhun said that he was not concerned about potential arrest, as he believed he had done nothing wrong. He asserted his right to join the NPP, which he saw as a new platform for democracy, as his former party was facing insurmountable obstacles that hindered its participation in the electoral process.

Som Sorida, NEC spokesperson, drew attention to the fact that all legitimate political parties have the opportunity to participate in the Kingdom’s democratic system.

He noted that Cambodian elections follow a proportional system, which mandates parties to compile candidate lists and adhere to the conditions outlined by election law.

“The NEC reviews the eligibility of each candidate, granting permission to those that meet all legal requirements. In cases where these conditions are not satisfied, the NEC requires parties to modify their candidate selection,” he said.

“Chhun enjoys the right to engage in political activities with any legal political party, a civil right which is guaranteed by the constitution. It is crucial that each political party prepare a list of candidates, in accordance with the specified conditions,” he added.

Sorida pointed out that, in Chhun’s case, the NEC would honour any relevant court decision or other legal ruling. It was possible that the NEC would approach the NPP and instruct it to revise its candidate list.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, believed that Chhun’s right to political activities remained limited, due to the conditions imposed by the courts.

He noted that Chhun’s choice to resign from one party and join another reflects a prevailing trend in national politics. He suggested that the shift is driven by the perception that the CP lacks prospects in upcoming elections.

“The best course of action for Chhun is for him to diligently fulfil his legal obligations, as any missteps could impact the party he recently joined. Carelessness could jeopardise the legality of his rehabilitation, which is contingent upon compliance with the court’s specified conditions,” he said.

In May, the ministry informed the NEC that Chhun had not completed his rehabilitation, as legal time requirements had not been met. It cited Articles 534 and 535 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.