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Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolves main opposition party

The Supreme Court of Cambodia has ruled to dissolve the country's main opposition, all but guaranteeing the ruling party's victory in next year's national elections

Johanna Chisholm
November 16, 2017
Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolves main opposition party
Cambodian police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 16 November 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/Mak Remissa

The Supreme Court of Cambodia has ruled in favour of dissolving the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after it was found guilty in a government-filed lawsuit of conspiring to stage a revolution through the aid of foreign parties.

The ruling will effectively dismantle the CNRP and also see 118 party members banned from politics for five years. All of the seats that the CNRP gained in the 2017 commune elections and the 2013 general election will be turned over to the CPP. National Assembly seats, however, will be distributed amongst minor opposition parties.

The complaint that ultimately brought down the CNRP was lodged last month by the Ministry of the Interior. It claimed that the party’s leader, Kem Sokha, had colluded with the US in the hope of overthrowing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Prime Minister Hun Sen has been leading the CPP in Cambodia for nearly 33 years, and many experts see his government’s dismantling of the opposition CNRP – a party that nearly dethroned the ruling party in the 2013 general election – as an attempt to corner the competition and guarantee the CPP the July 2018 national election.

In the morning session of the hearing, Ministry of Interior lawyers presented more than 20 pieces of evidence against the opposition, who had no legal representatives present during the hearing.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha is currently being held in a jail close to the Vietnam border on charges of treason, while former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has been living in exile in Paris since 2015 after escaping a jail term for alleged defamation.

Evidence against the CNRP at the trial included audio recordings, videos of the two former leaders and clippings from media reports.

Journalists from the Phnom Penh Post who were present for the morning trial reported that interior minister Ky Tech accused the opposition party of being instigators of a revolution like the kind seen in Yugoslavia or Tunisia.

The lawyers screened videos of Sokha that documented him admitting to having received assistance from the US in planning his political career and also played audio recordings from Radio Free Asia that they said proved there was a link between the US and the opposition in planning a colour revolution.

One of the clinching moments from the morning’s trial came when one of the court prosecutors said that the CNRP had been soundly proven to be functioning illegally for the past 20 years – even though the CNRP only came into existence in July 2012 when the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party joined forces.

On Wednesday, Rainsy made an announcement that he would be returning to the CNRP, a party he quit in February over fears at the time that it would be dissolved if he remained a member of it.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the former leader of the CNRP reasoned that since the party would be dissolved with or without his membership, it didn’t much matter if he returned.

Rainsy has not commented on whether his commitment to return still holds after today’s ruling proved his prediction to be true.

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