Hun Sen says it’s a done deal – Cambodia’s opposition will be shut down
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Hun Sen says it’s a done deal – Cambodia’s opposition will be shut down

CAMBODIA’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has said it is a “fact” that the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) will be dissolved, ahead of the country going to the polls in 2018.

Hun Sen’s government has asked the supreme court to dissolve the CNRP after its leader Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept 3 and charged with treason. The court has yet to rule on whether the CNRP will be dissolved.

“Because they didn’t respect the Paris Peace Agreement, the political party will be dissolved in the future, this is a fact,” Hun Sen said at a ceremony marking the construction of a new bridge in Phnom Penh.

SEE ALSO: 5 signs of Cambodia’s ‘descent into outright dictatorship’

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Kem Sokha’s supporters stand outside the Appeal Court during his bail hearing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Sept 26, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

Dissolving the party would eliminate the challenge to him prolonging more than 32 years in power in next year’s election, but Western donors have criticised the move and called for the release of Kem Sokha.

Hun Sen accused the United Nations of failing to bring peace despite organising the first election in 1993 and said guerrilla fighting had only ended because of his own negotiations with leaders of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

SEE ALSO: How do Cambodians feel about Hun Sen’s war on democracy?

Hun Sen’s critics accuse him of trying to turn the country into a one-party state for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). In June local elections, the CNRP won around 46 of the popular vote, compared to the CPP’s 51 percent.

“I am not your enemy, but I am a competitor who has a duty to contribute to improving our nation through constructive criticism and competition to gain popular support from the people,” wrote Kem Sokha from behind bars recently.

Cambodia Daily will go on

Meanwhile, the independent English and Khmer-language newspaper which Hun Sen’s government shuttered, the Cambodia Daily, will reportedly continue to publish offshore, perhaps exclusively online.

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A vendor prepares a stack of the final issue of The Cambodia Daily newspaper at her store for sale along a street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Sept 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

 

The paper’s publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele told the Japan Times that despite being forced to close in Cambodia in September after being hit by a whopping US$6.3 million tax bill, they will seek donors and journalists to continue funding and writing the newspaper.

Krisher-Steele said that “there is suspicion that the CIA funds us but the (Cambodian) tax office inspected our books and saw that we are operating at huge losses. They justified this by hinting that we are being subsidised by the CIA. It’s not true.”

Any help from the US or Japanese governments would be rejected, she said. “We are independent.”

Additional reporting by Reuters