Cambodia’s major opposition party lost an attempt to reverse its electoral ban on Thursday, opening the way for strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen to run unopposed in upcoming election.
Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) refused to register the Candlelight Party, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s main challenger, for the July elections last week after it failed to submit key documents.
In a statement, the Constitutional Council stated that it had rejected the appeal against the NEC’s verdict.
“We are deeply sorry… “Our party was defeated in the polls, and we are devastated,” Candlelight Party spokeswoman Kimsour Phirith said.
He stated that the party planned to participate in the elections in order to “restore the foundation of democracy in our country.” “The absence of a grassroots-supported party will narrow the democratic space.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen is one of the world’s most strongman leaders. Critics and human rights organisations accuse him of exploiting the legal system to suppress resistance to his leadership, especially in the run-up to elections.
In the July 23 election, the Candlelight Party was viewed as the sole serious alternative to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The party gained traction in the local elections last year, claiming 22% of the popular vote, and planned to fight the CPP in every constituency in the national elections.
Hun Sen has threatened Candlelight Party leaders with imprisonment if they organise rallies to protest the prohibition.
Many important opposition lawmakers are still embroiled in criminal proceedings that they claim are politically motivated, and a large number of activists have recently defected to Hun Sen’s camp. A number of imprisoned opposition figures have also been released after apologizing to Hun Sen.
In July, 9.7 million Cambodians have registered to vote for 125 National Assembly members.
Hun Sen is attempting to extend his 38-year reign by publicly supporting his son Hun Manet as the next ruler of Cambodia.
After the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved, his party won every seat in the 2018 national elections.
In March of this year, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in prison and placed under house arrest for treason in connection with an alleged plot to destabilize Hun Sen’s administration with the help of foreigners.
Sam Rainsy, another opposition activist, has been living in exile in France since 2015 to escape prison for convictions he claims are politically motivated.