Government lawyers in Cambodia moved on Friday to end opposition to the continued rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, submitting a petition to the country’s Supreme Court that it formally dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The five lawyers representing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) said the petition was based on complaints filed recently by the leaders of two smaller rival parties, Pich Sros of the Cambodian Youth Party and Prince Norodom Ranariddh of Funcinpec.
“We have studied the evidence and believe that we have ample and strong evidence against the CNRP that will allow the Supreme Court to dissolve the party,” government lawyer Ky Tech told reporters in Phnom Penh after filing the motion.
“According to [Cambodia’s] amended Law on Political Parties, the CNRP can be dissolved,” CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said in a text message distributed to reporters on Friday. “If the party is dissolved, its seats in the National Assembly will be allotted to other parties that took part in the election.”
Friday’s petition to dissolve the CNRP follows other government moves to destroy Cambodia’s most effective political opposition to Hun Sen’s 32-year rule. The CNRP’s performance in local elections in June were seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s general elections.
On Sept. 3, party leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh and accused of treason in a move critics say shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for July 2018.
Almost 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with fellow deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have meanwhile fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by Hun Sen’s CPP following important electoral gains by the CNRP in local elections in June.
A troubling move
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian political analyst Meas Ny described himself as troubled by today’s move against the CNRP.
“I don’t see how a political party supported by almost half of the people who cast votes [in June] can be dissolved,” he said.
“This proves Hun Sen’s failure to uphold the multiparty democracy guaranteed to Cambodia in its constitution. I don’t see how the upcoming national election can possibly be free and fair.”
Also speaking to RFA, a resident in the capital Phnom Penh said that widespread support in Cambodia for the CNRP has made Hun Sen afraid he will lose the next election.
“The CPP is now using smaller parties to destroy the CNRP by creating the illusion that without the CNRP there will still be an opposition. The government is trembling with fear that they can’t compete,” he said.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson meanwhile said the motion to dissolve the opposition party will almost certainly be approved.
“The Supreme Court is totally controlled by the ruling CPP party, and the judges will perform exactly as Hun Sen orders,” Robertson said in an Oct. 6 statement.
“This is a strongman’s coup d’etat, with Hun Sen shamelessly transforming himself into a dictator for the whole world to see.”
Call to cut off aid
Noting that Japan and the European Union have already provided “millions of dollars” to support next year’s election, Robertson added that “the only honorable way forward is for Japan and the EU to immediately cut off any further aid or technical assistance to an election will not be free or fair.”
“Attempts to dissolve Cambodia’s opposition party are the latest move by a small, corrupt elite to maintain its grip on power and wealth at the expense of the rest of the country,” London-based opposition watchdog Global Witness said in a statement Friday.
“The international community cannot stand back and watch as the country slides into outright dictatorship. Cambodia’s donors and trading partners have the power to intervene,” Global Witness campaigner Emma Burnett said.
While sanctions imposed against Cambodia might also be effective, these should be carefully applied, CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua told RFA on Friday, speaking from an undisclosed location after fleeing Cambodia earlier this week ahead of possible arrest.
“They should be imposed in a way that hurts only the senior officials of the government and their families, and not the ordinary people,” she said.
In the continuing crackdown on Hun Sen’s opposition, armed security forces meanwhile surrounded the Phnom Penh home of CNRP Youth Movement leader Hing Soksan on Friday. Family members told RFA the authorities searched the house, but the activist was not at home.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.