Political parties that have registered with the Ministry of Interior have the right to operate freely and without discrimination, a senior official said, though some parties and civil society organisations remain concerned about practices that could give some an unfair competitive advantage.

There are currently 45 parties registered with the ministry, said its secretary of state and spokesman Khieu Sopheak at an October 14 press conference on its achievements over the past five years.

He noted that from 2018-2022, the ministry allowed the formation of nine new parties and registration of 17 parties, while eight were deleted from the registrar’s list.

“In general, registered parties can operate without … oppression. In the recent 5th-mandate commune council elections, there were 17 political parties competing with more than 7.3 million people casting votes, which was equal to more than 80 per cent of all registered voters. Nine political parties won seats on commune councils,” he said.

Cambodian Youth Party (CYP) president Pich Sros said political rights in Cambodia were not yet full and complete as some of their members had been intimidated by the authorities who he said were members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“Sub-national authorities also come from political parties and they are afraid of losing their support, so they take the opportunity to intimidate other parties by sending people to say that anyone who votes for other candidates will have their IDPoor card withdrawn.

“Some people got worried and stopped associating with the CYP, but most of our members were not afraid,” he said.

Sros said, however, that in general there were no threats or restrictions on political freedoms.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the NGO Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), is of the view that while the rights to politics is guaranteed in the Law on Political Parties, in practice there are many party activists that find themselves in trouble or facing discrimination from local authorities.

“The law requires free political action, but obviously in practice things aren’t quite what they should be. We support them and ask them to instruct the sub-national authorities to facilitate parties with conducting political activities freely and without oppression, because in the past many parties had complained of this frequently,” he said.

FUNCINPEC spokesman Nheun Raden said his party has never felt there was any restriction on the space for participation in politics from 1993 to date, especially with their grassroots visits and rallies, and the local authorities have always been involved helpfully by providing security.

“In the past, we had never encountered big problems. In a few places, we encountered minor issues but were able to solve them. Sometimes when we went to raise party banners in public places, the authorities banned us from doing. But when we told them that we had already received permission [from higher-level authorities, they cooperated with us and we never had to complain to the upper level,” he said.