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 described comments by “a handful of critics” as “misleading and politically motivated”.

On May 15, The 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 election are required to have copies of their party registration documentation certified at the One Window Service Office (OWSO) in the district where their party headquarters is located. The certified copies shall then be attached to their submission to the NEC.

In a May 16 press release, An Sokkhoeun, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said the failed registration was solely the result of non-compliance with the electoral laws, regulations and notifications from the NEC.

Citing Article 27 of the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly and the NEC’s Notifications dated April 26, 2018 and April 5, 2023 respectively, Sokkhoeun elaborated that in order to officially register for the parliamentary election, a political party shall submit to the NEC an application for registration and shall provide, among other documents, a copy of the party’s certificate of registration issued by the interior ministry and that has been certified by the OWSO.

CP vice-president Son Chhay claimed at a May 16 press conference that his party could not accept the NEC’s decision because the party had done its best to follow the regulations and submit adequate documents.

“We have adequate documents, so we cannot understand the NEC’s decision,” he said.

CP spokesman Kimsour Phirith told The Post on May 17 that his party would lodge an appeal with the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC).

“We are preparing documents to lodge our appeal. We may file it as soon as May 20,” he added.

Sokkhoeun of the foreign ministry said the failure to provide adequate documentation for registration was a mistake that should be borne by the party leadership, as admitted by one of its own vice-presidents.

Citing the vice-presidents, he described a call for protests at the NEC decision as a “grave mistake”.

“As part of the Kingdom’s system of checks and balances, the decision can be appealed to the CCC,” he explained.

He added that all political parties have adequate preparatory time to apply for the required documents, as the coming general election was declared a year in advance.

“Moreover, certified copies of the original certificate of registration are provided free of charge by the sub-national authorities,” he said in reference to the OWSO.

“In order to guarantee a free, fair and transparent election process, the NEC does not offer preferential treatment to any certain political party,” he added.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it appeared that the NEC was correct to reject the application, based on Article 27 of the laws pertaining to parliamentary elections.

“The CP leadership seem to have wasted time, or neglected to obtain the necessary documents. Their statements are baseless and will only make it difficult to restore the situation,” he said.

“I think the CP intended to alter the registration process, but have only succeeded in damaging their own interests and dampening the morale of their supporters who worked hard to participate in the election. The party leadership made some poor decisions, and have lost the chance to contest the election,” he continued.

He also said that regardless of whether the CP will contest, the July 23 election will take place without any hindrance, as the Cambodian democratic process continues.

“This process reflects historical factors, tradition, culture, the national mindset and the national identity, and reflects the Kingdom’s political culture,” he said.