The National Election Committee last week threatened heavy fines for opposition leaders who urged supporters to protest the July 23 national poll with incorrectly marked ballots.

Those found guilty face penalties of 20 million riels, the NEC said, and five-year bans from voting or running for office.

Some Candlelight Party leaders, in protest of the group’s disqualification, have pressed supporters to mark ballots multiple times or not at all. The NEC has labeled such actions a violation of the election law’s spirit.

“The purpose of voting is to choose the party you like,” said Hang Puthea, spokesperson for the NEC. “To destroy the vote goes against the law. It is illegal.”

The National Assembly recently pushed through last-minute changes to the election law criminalizing calls to “destroy or damage the ballot,” amendments critics said directly targeted the opposition.

“Citizens should have the right to decide freely,” said Korn Savang, a coordinating officer for Comfrel, the election watchdog. “It should not be a legal obligation.”

The Candlelight Party unsuccessfully pushed the NEC to enact the changes after the election.

“The NEC is not doing the wrong thing, they are just following the law,” Kimsour Phirith, a Candlelight Party spokesperson, told Newsroom Cambodia. “However, the CNRP did not support the amendments, as the election is very soon, and lawmakers did not include relevant parties in the decision-making.”