Cambodian PM threatens to dissolve opposition party

Last week’s arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha was the latest move in a long-running crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 7:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 8:00pm

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to dissolve the country’s embattled opposition party on Monday, as rival politicians protested outside a remote border prison where their leader is being held for alleged treason.

Last week’s dramatic arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha was the latest move in a long-running crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which poses the only real threat to Hun Sen’s 32-year rule in next year’s national elections.

The 64-year-old opposition politician was accused of conspiring in a “secret plan” with foreign entities that began in 1993, with Hun Sen alleging the US was involved in the plot.

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Two dozen opposition politicians on Monday travelled to the prison located on the border of Vietnam to protest Kem Sokha’s arrest.

Back in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen threatened to dissolve the party if they continued to “protect” their leader.

“If the political party continues to block (proceedings) and continues to protect the traitor, it means this party is also a traitor, so there is no need to keep this party in Cambodia’s democratic process any more,” he said.

He said the legal punishment could be the “dissolution of the party”.

The opposition politicians made the three-hour trip to the prison in Tboung Khmum province on the same day ruling party lawmakers voted to continue proceedings against Kem Sokha.

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“We demand the release of president Kem Sokha immediately and unconditionally,” said CNRP’s deputy leader Mu Sochua, flanked by other MPs in front of a police blockade outside the jail.

Mu Sochua also threatened to boycott the 2018 poll if the veteran politician was not released, saying the election would no longer be “free and fair”.

Although Cambodia is nominally a democracy, Hun Sen has ruled the impoverished nation for more than three decades, amassing extensive control over its judicial system, security forces and economy. Rights groups said he has been systematically silencing his opponents in politics, media and NGOs ever since his party nearly lost to the CNRP in the last 2013 election.

The CNRP faired well in this year’s local polls, buoyed by a wave of anger over the corruption, inequality and rights abuses that have flourished under Hun Sen.

But the party’s prospects are dimming with its top two leaders sidelined by the courts – Kem Sokha’s predecessor Sam Rainsy lives in exile to avoid a string of convictions he says are politically motivated.