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Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolves main opposition party

Tang Chhin Sothy, AFP | Cambodian police officials block a street during a hearing at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh on November 16, 2017.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Thursday, giving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party a clear run in a general election next year.


The court ruling, in response to a petition brought by the government, also banned 118 CNRP members from politics for five years.

In a televised address, Hun Sen told Cambodians that next year’s election would go ahead “as normal” and called on CNRP members who had not been banned to defect to his party.

The CNRP, which had been poised to challenge Hun Sen’s long rule in next year’s election, was accused of plotting to topple the government after the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha on Sept. 3.

The party denied the accusations as politically motivated.

It did not send lawyers to Thursday’s court session.

The verdict comes amid an increasingly tense political situation and a campaign by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to crush the opposition ahead of the vote.

More than half the CNRP’s members of parliament have already fled Cambodia, fearing detention.

The ruling leaves “no credible political opposition in Cambodia” for the first time since a U.N.-run election in 1993, a senior diplomat based in the Cambodian capital told Reuters.

Dozens of police guarded the court, but there were no immediate signs of any protests following the ruling.

Hun Sen has said that the CNRP’s parliamentary seats will be redistributed to other government-aligned parties after its dissolution.

The judge who heads the Supreme Court, Dith Munty, is a member of the permanent committee of the ruling party and a longtime Hun Sen loyalist.

“The misuse of the courts to dissolve the CNRP is one of the gravest threats to human rights and representative democracy modern Cambodia has seen,” said Kingsley Abbot of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists.

“(That) should be acknowledged as such by the international community when it sits down to consider its political and economic engagement with the country,” he told Reuters.

The 2018 election had been shaping as possibly the biggest challenge to Hun Sen’s leadership, after his opponents united behind the CNRP. They had made significant gains in local elections in June.


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