Cambodia’s prime minister vows to rule for another 10 years as opposition party faces exclusion from 2018 election

Opposition party’s leader has been charged with treason, and Cambodian law stipulates a political party has 90 days to replace a president if he or she dies, resigns or is convicted of an offence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 10:35pm

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to continue leading his impoverished Southeast Asian nation for another 10 years on Wednesday, days after the arrest of his leading opponent.

Speaking to some 10,000 garment factory workers on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital, Hun Sen said he has decided to run for another two terms. After that, the 64-year-old said, he would think about leaving office.

“Before I was very hesitant of when I shall leave office, but after witnessing the treasonous acts of the opposition leader in recent days, I have decided to continue my job for another 10 years,” Hun Sen said.

In power for 32 years, Hun Sen is already the world’s longest-serving prime minister and among its longest-serving leaders. In 2007, he said he wanted to retire at age 90 but backtracked on the claim in 2015.

“May I ask all the foreigners, please don’t be jealous of me that I’ve become the world longest-serving prime minister,” he said.

After witnessing the treasonous acts of the opposition leader in recent days, I have decided to continue my job for another 10 years
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

Cambodia’s government has also raised the possibility that the main opposition party could be ruled out of next year’s elections if it does not replace its leader, Kem Sokha, who has been charged with treason.

“They have to appoint an acting president,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Tuesday. “If they don’t comply with the law, they will not exist and have no right to political activity ... It’s their choice, not my choice.”

Cambodian law stipulates a political party has 90 days to replace a president if he or she dies, resigns or is convicted of an offence. However, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has said it will not replace its leader.

Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, who is also a party official, said the party would not appoint a replacement. Kem Sokha was only named in February after his predecessor, Sam Rainsy, resigned in fear the party would be banned if he stayed on. Rainsy now lives in exile.

“The ruling party can drop their divide-and-conquer plan now,” Kem Monovithya said.

CNRP officials accuse Hun Sen of trying to weaken or destroy the party ahead of next year’s elections, after it did well in June’s local elections, in which it nonetheless came well behind Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party.

Hun Sen’s party has often been accused in the past of using violence or threats against opponents, but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in the courts.

Kem Sokha’s lawyers have dismissed the evidence presented against him so far – a video publicly available since 2013 – in which he tells supporters he is getting support and advice from Americans for the campaign to win elections.

“The government and the ruling CPP have manufactured these treason charges against Kem Sokha for political purposes, aiming to try and knock the political opposition out of the ring before the 2018 electoral contest even begins,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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Western countries have condemned the arrest of Kem Sokha and a crackdown on critics of Hun Sen, including independent media.

“We don’t care about people outside,” Phay Siphan said. “We care about our national security. We don’t belong to anyone.”

China, Hun Sen’s close ally, has voiced support for Cambodia on steps to ensure its security.

Additional reporting by Reuters