Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Saturday that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party would definitely be dissolved later this month, and warned that more than 100 opposition politicians would be barred from politics for five years if they did not defect to his party soon.
The premier has cracked down on NGOs, independent media and the opposition party in recent months ahead of general elections set for 2018, which were predicted to be a close call between his Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition CNRP.
In September, police arrested opposition leader Kem Sokha on charges that he was involved in a US-backed plot to topple the government. A month later, the Interior Ministry filed a complaint with the Supreme Court asking for the entire party to be dissolved.
In an apparently spontaneous live-streamed speech from his house in Phnom Penh on Saturday, the last day of the national Water Festival holiday, Hun Sen said that the dissolution of the opposition party was a sure thing, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the question.
“I bet my life that the situation is serious since [Kem Sokha] was arrested and handcuffed at 12 a.m.,” he said.
He also repeated a call to all opposition officials, at both national and local levels, to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, saying he was being magnanimous by giving them an opportunity to continue serving the people.
“It is not only that the party will be dissolved and it is finished. More than 100 people will be banned from doing politics for five years,” Hun Sen said.
He added that at least 112 opposition officials would be subject to the ban, including all members of the CNRP’s steering and permanent committee and almost all its lawmakers.
The dissolution of the CNRP could leave Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party unopposed in parliament. The CNRP currently holds 55 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats, with the ruling CPP holding the other 68.
Son Chhay, one of the few CNRP lawmakers who has remained in the country during the political crisis, said the party would hold discussions in upcoming days on how to handle Mr. Hun Sen’s threat.
He said until then he could not indicate what the party’s response would be, but noted that if the party were dissolved and its politicians banned from the political arena, there would be repercussions for the entire nation.
“This is a serious national disintegration and a return to the awful history of our Cambodia that politicians have to avoid and consider responsibly,” he said.
Political commentator Meas Nee said dissolving the opposition and banning its politicians would call into question the legitimacy of the government and the upcoming election, adding that it might also have an impact on the economy via pressure from Cambodia’s donors and trade partners.
“He uses laws to forcefully dissolve a party that has support from nearly half of the country’s population,” he said. “If those people think it is unfair for them, they will not vote.”
A European delegation on Tuesday warned that a deterioration in the country’s human rights situation could affect European Union aid and trade preferences, both of which provide substantial economic benefits to Cambodia.