A renewed grassroots force in Cambodian politics is taking on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party in nationwide local elections this weekend, thereby becoming the latest target of a crackdown on opponents that has intensified in recent years.
The Candlelight Party has emerged as the biggest opposition force to Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 37 years. Its candidates will challenge the prime minister’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in 1,623 of the 1,652 local government bodies known as communes, or sangkats, on June 5.
Candlelight was formerly the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), which merged with Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012 to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Cambodia’s politically controlled judiciary forcibly dissolved the party in 2017 after it came close to winning the 2013 national election and almost gained a majority of the vote in the 2017 communal elections.