Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened yesterday to impose a five-year ban on more than 100 unnamed senior CNRP officials, seemingly under a controversial provision of the Law on Political Parties, while insisting that the main opposition party will indeed be dissolved this month by the Supreme Court.
With crucial national elections scheduled for next year, the court is on the verge of disbanding the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the Kingdom’s main opposition party – following the filing of a Ministry of Interior complaint last month. A decision may be reached as early as November 16, at a hearing scheduled at the court.
“Again, I would like to express that you need to leave early, and don’t believe what they say that ‘Hun Sen dares not [dissolve the party]’,” he said, referring to comments made by former CNRP head Sam Rainsy last week.
“If he dared not, Hun Sen would order the Ministry of Interior to withdraw the complaint already.”
The premier also seemed to offer incentives to CNRP officials to jump ship, saying that he will only ban senior leaders of the CNRP from participating in politics for five years, allowing lower-level officials to freely join his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
In all, the premier said, a total of 112 members of the party’s permanent committee and party board would be banned from politics.
The move would appear to correspond to Article 44 of the Political Parties Law – part of the second set of controversial changes rammed through by the CPP this year – which says parties can be banned for five years for “supporting or organising any plans or conspiracies” against the Kingdom. The law does not call for punishments against any individual members, however.
The government, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of colluding with the United States and European Union to foment a so-called “colour revolution”.
This narrative was further propagated yesterday by state-run broadcaster TVK, which aired a 30-minute video showing images of Khmer Rouge atrocities, the opposition’s 2013 post-election protests, the Veng Sreng Boulevard minimum wage strikes and CNRP lawmakers taking the parliamentary oath to not collude with foreign powers. The footage was interspersed with talking heads warning of colour revolutions.
“The first stage is popular protest. Second, they use the media to broadcast the protests and clashes [with authorities]. Third, they create militants,” Ros Chantraboth, a historian with the Royal Academy of Cambodia, says in the video.
In his address yesterday, the prime minister also alluded to seeming strife within the opposition party, exposed last week when Rainsy criticised the signing of a candidate list for Senate nominations by jailed party leader Kem Sokha, saying it had been signed under duress in prison and should therefore be disregarded. Sokha is currently facing widely criticised charges of “treason” for telling supporters in 2013 that he had received political advice from the US.
Rainsy has also accused CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann of working in league with the prime minister to stage a “party coup”.
“The city rebels are breaking up into groups,” Hun Sen said yesterday, using a term he has used in the past to refer to the CNRP. “One group has fled abroad and is attacking the city rebels left inside the country.”
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua yesterday dispelled rumours of a split in the party, pointing to the fact that only 40 CNRP officials had flipped to the CPP out of a total of around 6,000 elected opposition officials since Hun Sen first offered clemency. She also rejected the notion that Hun Sen should be in a position to make such predictions about the court dissolving the party.
“The prime minister cannot declare the party will be dissolved unless he is the Supreme Court. This means he is the Supreme Court,” she said. “He further confirms the reality of justice in Cambodia.”
Sochua is currently abroad after being tipped off that her own arrest was in the offing.
Following Sokha’s arrest on September 3 and the subsequent calls for the party’s dissolution, CNRP leaders have insisted that Hun Sen won’t dissolve the party due to increasing international pressure. Thus far, foreign embassies and governments have lined up to condemn the moves against the CNRP, but no concrete measures have been taken.
On Friday, US Senators John McCain and Dick Durbin introduced a resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to put senior Cambodian government officials on a Treasury list that would freeze their assets in the US and prevent Americans from transacting with them.
Also in the US, Senator Ted Cruz called for targeted travel restrictions for senior officials if the Cambodian government does not release Sokha by November 9. Meanwhile, a visiting delegation of EU parliamentarians told Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn last week that the political crackdown could affect development aid and trade with the bloc.
Reached on Saturday, CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath contended that this pressure would result in the government backing off its plans to dissolve the party. He added that an earlier plan to use the Candlelight Party and Human Rights Party – the remnants of the two founding groups that merged to form the CNRP – as CNRP surrogates during the upcoming elections was no longer on the table.
“Before we could see a scenario for this point, but I don’t think it is the scenario anymore. We have to still fight for CNRP anyway,” he said.