The ruling party’s “upper level” asked a commune-level party leader in Takeo province to pursue a court case against five CNRP commune candidates over a verbal confrontation last week, the plaintiff said on Monday.
The five candidates have said they will not appear in court on Wednesday to answer a summons accusing them of incitement, defamation and making public insults.
Pich Chhim, deputy head of the CPP in Koh Andet district’s Prey Khla commune, filed a complaint to the commune election committee accusing a group of about 20 opposition supporters of stopping a ruling party parade there on May 20. That complaint has been bumped to the provincial election committee for resolution.
But early last week, Ms. Chhim also filed a complaint to the provincial court, which issued a summons on Thursday ordering the five CNRP commune candidates to appear for questioning related to alleged defamation, public insults and incitement to commit a felony, with the latter charge carrying a maximum two year prison sentence.
Reached on Monday, Ms. Chhim initially said she filed the legal complaint on her own behalf because the election complaint had stalled, alleging that the CNRP candidates had damaged her and the CPP’s reputation.
But later in the day, in a second telephone conversation, she said her superiors had asked her to take the matter to court.
“My upper level organized it,” she said, declining to name who had asked her to pursue the issue. The same “upper level” also hired Ms. Chhim’s lawyer, she added.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan could not be reached for comment.
Footage of the incident in question shows a shouting CNRP member calling his rivals “stupid” and accusing the CPP of murdering people before retreating back to his group.
Suspecting political motives behind the case, the candidates have no plans to appear in court on Wednesday, according to Keo Eat, a second deputy commune chief running for re-election who was one of the five named in the complaint.
“This lawsuit is an exaggerated case to put political pressure against us,” he said, describing the issue as a “minor argument.”
Mao Sophal, head of the provincial CNRP executive committee, said the lawsuit was meant to intimidate the party, which won the commune in the 2013 national elections.
“I think the case against them is politically motivated with the intent to intimidate CNRP commune candidates in Prey Khla commune,” Mr. Sophal said, adding that a lawyer would attend Wednesday’s questioning in the absence of the five.
Mr. Sophal contended that the case should fall within resolution mechanisms set up by the National Election Committee (NEC), which recommends that minor cases related to the election campaign be sent to commune election committees before being escalated to the provincial committee if they could not be resolved by compromise.
But NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on Monday there was nothing stopping individuals from taking their case to the court system instead.
“The individual filed the lawsuit to the court,” he said. “It’s not involved with the NEC.”
Mr. Puthea said the NEC had logged 56 campaign complaints as of Monday evening, three of which had been bumped to the provincial level.