Authorities in Cambodia are ordering an opposition party to remove a sign from a public road, sparking accusations of political bias in favor of the Cambodian People’s Party whose leader Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years.
The move by officials in central Cambodia’s Tboung Khmum province reflects CPP concern over the growth of the Candlelight Party, which has been working since November to prepare for local elections scheduled for June 5, party activist Sou Yean told RFA on Wednesday.
Sou Yean said he has refused orders from authorities in Tboung Khmum’s Dambaer district to take down his party’s sign. “All political parties have equal rights,” said the activist, a former member of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party who was recently released from prison.
Provincial deputy governor Keng Bunna denied accusations of political bias in ordering the sign’s removal, saying its placement at the side of a public road had led to complaints from villagers living nearby.
“Even though the sign was put up in a public space, it might interfere with traffic,” Keng Bunna said. Candlelight Party members should consult with authorities in the future over where their signs can be placed, he said.
“They need to coordinate this with the authorities so we can make sure their signs don’t affect the flow of traffic. We don’t restrict the activities of any political parties,” he added.
Sou Yean said however that his party had informed local authorities about the installation of its sign according to legal requirements, and that the sign’s placement did not interfere with traffic flows. The Candlelight Party will continue its activities in spite of authorities’ pressure and intimidations, he said.
Kang Savang, a monitor with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said that opposition parties in Cambodia have frequently been blocked in their attempts to put up signs advertising their party’s presence and activities.
“It isn’t right for the authorities to refuse permission. Instead, they should work to find compromises so they don’t engage in political discrimination,” he said.
The Candlelight Party was formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party, whose leader merged the group with other opposition forces to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 in a move that allowed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win all 125 seats in Parliament in a July 2018 election. The ban came two months after the arrest of Kem Sokha, president of the CNRP, who faces trial on treason charges this month.
Hun Sen’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.