Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday repeated calls for opposition Cambodia National Rescue party lawmakers and other officials to defect and join his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Hun Sen made the appeal ahead of an expected court decision that would see all 55 CNRP lawmakers stripped of their seats in parliament, as well as senators and local officials.
“We welcome lawmakers who separate themselves from the CNRP and join the CPP. We welcome the party leaders who are innocent and just realized their leader’s tricks,” he told garment workers at a weekly meeting in Phnom Penh.
“We welcome provincial, district and commune councilors who want to continue their job to join the Cambodian People’s Party,” he added.
The CNRP is likely to be dissolved in the coming days or weeks after the government initiated a Supreme Court case against it in September, alleging it breached the law by associating with convicted criminals.
The CNRP president, Kem Sokha, was jailed in September on treason charges, while its former leader, Sam Rainsy, remains in exile in France after fleeing a defamation sentence widely seen as politically motivated.
The olive branch offered by Hun Sen to CNRP officials who would consider defecting will be seen by many as a further attempt to divide opposition to his rule and solidify his unquestioned position as Cambodia’s ruler.
“We only want to punish political institutions that commit treason and their leaders,” he said this week. “We don’t want [to target] those at a lower level.”
If the CNRP is dissolved, its 55 seats in parliament will be distributed among minor parties that won less than 5 percent of the popular vote in the last election, while some 5,000 local authority jobs will be given to the ruling party, cementing the CPP’s control at the grassroots level.
At least one opposition lawmaker and several councilors had written to Hun Sen to take him up on the offer by Thursday.
However, others, such as Sin Chanpovrozeth, a CNRP commune chief for Ou Char in Battambang province, said they would not consider the proposal. “First I would be betraying Ou Char citizens and secondly I would be betraying my ideals because I decided to be with the CNRP.”
Hun Sen’s moves against the opposition have come under fire from the international community, who see the attempts to remove opposition ahead of next year’s general election as a step back for democracy in Cambodia.