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Cambodian Ruling Party Sues Politician for Criticizing Vote

FILE - Vice President of Candlelight Party, Son Chhay, waves flags during a campaign rally for the upcoming local elections on June 5, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia May 21, 2022. Picture taken on May 21, 2022. (REUTERS/Lach Chantha)

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party has sued the vice president of the opposition Candlelight Party for $1 million in compensation for comments he made in an online interview alleging that this month’s local elections were unfair, a spokesman for the governing party said.

A lawyer for the Cambodian People’s Party filed the lawsuit on Tuesday against Son Chhay for saying that the nationwide commune elections were unfree as well as unfair, according to documents filed with the Phnom Penh municipal court.

Son Chhay charged that the National Election Committee was biased in favor of the governing party and that there had been vote-buying and intimidation of voters. His allegations have been denied by the government.

“Son Chhay’s comments spread false information with malicious intent and were slanderous, which was seriously damaging to the reputation of the Cambodian People’s Party, which won the election,” said the complaint filed by the lawyer, Ky Tech.

For several years, long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has aggressively pursued legal action against its opponents, hindering their ability to operate freely, and sometimes hounding them into exile or jailing them.

In 2017, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on a charge of treason that was widely seen as politically motivated to ensure a victory for the Cambodian People's Party in the 2018 general election. Before its dissolution, the opposition party had been expected to mount a strong challenge, but with it off the ballot, Hun Sen’s party won all the seats in the National Assembly.

Sok Eysan, a spokesperson for the governing party, said in social media posts that Son Chhay’s allegations contradicted the will of the voters and insulted state institutions.

Son Chhay said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the governing party was seeking to weaken his Candlelight Party so they would not need to dissolve it. Son Chhay holds dual Cambodian and Australian citizenship, and another party official, Thach Setha, said he left Cambodia for Australia on Saturday, before the lawsuit.

Thach Setha said it would be better to solve the dispute by having the politicians involved talk face-to-face rather than filing a lawsuit. He added that if there was a legitimate complaint, it should be handled by the National Election Committee instead of the courts.

Asked about Son Chhay’s prospects if the case goes forward, he replied: “As everybody knows, whenever there is a lawsuit filed by the government or ruling party against opposition politicians, we have never won any case. Even if you have a very, very good lawyer from heaven, you still lose in court.”