The ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Friday began a three-day mass party congress attended by senior political and military figures amid a deepening crackdown on political opposition to the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen has been leading a crackdown on opposition to his more than 30-year rule of Cambodia, which has seen the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, as well as curbs on freedom of the press and measures against civil society critical of his government.
Hun Sen wrote on Facebook that under his government Cambodians had experienced unprecedented benefits and increased standards of living.
More than 2,000 people attended the meeting, according to pro-government website Freshnews, which said that preparations for the general election in July took center stage.
The Congress came a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report for 2018, which accused Hun Sen’s government of abusing the justice system to attack the CNRP and stifle democracy.
It went on to say that Hun Sen had expanded his campaign against the opposition to include arbitrary arrests and summary trials against political opponents and activists, the suppression of protests and threatening of non-governmental groups.
“Hun Sen’s actions against Cambodia’s opposition appeared to be motivated by fear that the CPP would lose national elections made large electoral gains during the 2013 national elections and the 2017 commune elections,” it reads.
“The last vestiges of democratic government in Cambodia disappeared in 2017,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, was quoted as saying in the report.
“Hun Sen cemented his 33-year rule into dictatorship at the expense of the Cambodian people’s basic rights,” he added.
However, Hun Sen’s Facebook page described the prime minister as a “wise leader and father with the highest morals”.
Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesman, said Adams’ comments were “lies” and blamed the CNRP for breaking the law, which left the courts no choice but to order its dissolution.
“If the Cambodia National Rescue Party was good, there would be no reason for the Supreme Court to dissolve it,” he said.
He added that the CPP was firmly behind its president, Hun Sen, supporting his candidacy to serve a sixth term as prime minister.
However, Adams said in the report that the 1991 Paris Agreement, which ended Cambodia’s civil war and ushered in the country’s first modern elections, had “essentially failed”.
“Concerned countries need to impose travel bans, targeted sanctions, and other punitive measures on the Cambodian leadership if there is any hope of restoring the democratic promise of 1991,” he added.