Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday instructed opposition officials not barred from politics to stop dwelling on last month’s dissolution of the CNRP, or hoping for its revival, and to instead create a new party to contest next year’s national elections.
In a November 16 Supreme Court decision, the main opposition party was dissolved in one stroke, with 118 of its senior officials banned from the political arena for five years for allegedly participating in a purported “revolution” to overthrow the government. The party’s leader, Kem Sokha, is still in pre-trial detention at a high-security prison near the Vietnamese border in Tbong Khmum province after being charged with “treason”.
Hun Sen yesterday said rumours or “fake news” that the CNRP could see a “rebirth” were false, as the high court’s decision was final.
“There is only one way and that is to create a new party to compete in the upcoming elections by following the democracy process. It’s much better than talking or campaigning, which is a waste of a lot of time,” he said, speaking to garment workers on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich.
Leading up to and since the party’s dissolution, the premier has often offered seemingly magnanimous gestures to the CNRP’s rank and file, including offering its officials the chance to keep their positions by defecting to the ruling party. The premier’s suggestion yesterday was quickly rejected by some CNRP officials who said they only wanted to represent their now-defunct party.
“If we cannot get the CNRP and we create more parties, they will dissolve it again. Therefore, if we cannot get the CNRP back, [Hun Sen] can compete in the elections alone,” said Sok Sek, former member of the CNRP’s Phnom Penh executive committee.
Kin Loeng, a former CNRP official from Prey Veng province, said he would only follow instructions from senior party officials and was paying no heed to the premier’s advice.
“I do not pay attention to that. I have not yet thought [about a new party], but I prefer doing farming to fill my stomach,” he added.
A last-ditch attempt by some banned CNRP officials to request a retrial at the Supreme Court was rejected by the high court on Friday.
The complaint was filed by around a dozen elected officials and party members saying that it was unfair to impose a sweeping ban on officials who were never summonsed by the court, and that the ruling tarnished their reputations by alleging treasonous acts.
A letter signed by Judge Dith Munty, who presided over the dissolution trial and who sits on the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s permanent committee, rejected the request saying there were no provisions in the Law on Political Parties, which has been amended multiple times this year to facilitate the crackdown on the CNRP, to allow such a hearing. He also rejected a request to put the November verdict on hold until it could be decided if the CNRP had any legal recourse in the case.
Former opposition Senator Sor Chandeth, who was one of the co-plaintiffs, criticised the decision. “Even the ECCC [Khmer Rouge Tribunal] only prosecutes the top leaders. What about us? Are we more savage than the Khmer Rouge? I did not know anything about the treasonous acts,” he said.
Additional Reporting by Niem Chheng