The National Election Committee (NEC) on October 9 said it will continue to carry out its duties independently, two days after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled in its favour in its “public defamation” lawsuit against Candlelight Party (CLP) vice-president Son Chhay over alleged irregularities in the June 5 Commune Council Elections.

On the same day, Chhay was also found guilty in a similar lawsuit filed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom said the decision served justice and restored its honour and dignity, while reiterating that the electoral body will remain non-partisan.

“The court found that Son Chhay’s accusations against the NEC were not based on evidence and fact. The NEC cannot administer elections alone, but requires cooperation from all relevant partners,” he said.

The lawsuit stemmed from Chhay’s June 7 interview with the online media outlet Cambodia Daily, two days after the 5th-mandate commune elections. During the interview, Chhay levelled accusations of vote rigging, likening it to the “theft of cattle”.

His comments prompted the NEC to sue him to avoid public confusion and loss of trust from the electorate. The lawsuit was filed by Sovannarom and NEC deputy secretary-general Som Sorida.

At the October 7 hearing, the court ruled that Chhay had no evidence to substantiate his claims, which it said harmed the image of the national institution and affected social order.

The court ordered Chhay to issue an apology to the NEC in writing and publicly announce it for two months to restore the NEC’s honour and dignity. In addition, the court ordered Chhay to pay a fine of nine million riel ($2,150) to the state for public defamation, under articles 305, 53 and 310 of the Criminal Code.

This decision will also be posted at the defendant’s residence, commune hall, capital-provincial election offices, on the information boards and on all telecommunication and audio-visual channels for eight days at his own expense.

In the CPP lawsuit, the court ordered Chhay to pay eight million riel to the state budget as a fine and a further three billion riel in compensation to the ruling party.

Chhay defended his comments prior to the verdict by saying that it was a matter of freedom of speech to express his opinions and his only goal was to improve the electoral system.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Chhay’s loss in the court case was a reminder to him and other people to toe the line between their freedom of speech and the rights of other people. The verdict provided justice for the CPP and NEC, he added.