PM Hun Sen Rejects Son Chhay’s Apology

Son Chhay, Vice President of Candlelight party, speaks to media representatives in front of Phnom Penh Municipal court on October 7, 2022. Photo by AFP

PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen has refused to accept Son Chhay's apology over allegations of irregularities in the June 2022 commune election process.

Such irregularities had been organized by the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) and the National Election Committee (NEC), Chhay previously stated, before recently claiming he “never intended to accuse [them] of stealing votes.”

The Premier stated that refusing Chhay’s apologies was a way to end the culture of labeling and insults to the CPP.

Son Chhay is the Vice President of the Candlelight Party, which secured 22.2 percent of the votes during the 2022 ballot. He has been sued for libel by both the CPP and the NEC for public criticism of the commune elections process.

On Feb. 28, Hun Sen revealed on his official Telegram channel that he received messages from a user identified as Soy Sopheap, a media tycoon having close ties with the CPP, telling him that Son Chhay wanted to apologize for his comments.

According to the message, Chhay has met with Soy Sopheap and asked him to convey his apology to the Prime Minister. An undated photo showed both men chatting in a restaurant.

In addition to unveiling these messages, Hun Sen attached a letter from Chhay apologizing for the remarks that he made in an interview on June 7, 2022, with The Cambodia Daily, a U.S.-based online media not affiliated with its homonym, a Cambodian-based newspaper closed in 2017.

In that interview, Chhay said the election results “did not reflect the true will of the people and the NEC was not independent in conducting the June 5 election.”

Such allegations brought him to court, after the CPP and the NEC filed two complaints for defamation.

But in the disclosed letter, Son Chhay writes that he had not accused the CPP of stealing votes.

“I, Son Chhay, have never intended to accuse the CPP or the NEC of stealing votes, and I do not intend to accuse the CPP will be stealing the ballot in the future,” he said in the letter, dated Feb. 13.

“If the CPP or NEC considers what I was saying in an interview as the accusation of the vote thief, I apologize,” he added.

In response, PM Hun Sen said in a Telegram message that “[We] have apologized many times, but the same old thing is still happening.” “So, we want to end the culture of labeling, and let’s apologize in court instead so that the bad guys will not do it again.”

Following the two libel complaints, Chhay was brought to court and found guilty of defamation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in October 2022.

Only four months later, the Candlelight Party’s vice president was definitely convicted by the Supreme Court on Feb. 23.

The court upheld the December 2022 verdict of the Appeal Court, ordering Chhay to pay 4 billion riels (about $1 million) in compensation to the CPP and 10 million riels (around $2,400) to the NEC.


Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Teng Yalirozy for Cambodianess.

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