‘Destruction of democracy’ in Cambodia as opposition party dissolved
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‘Destruction of democracy’ in Cambodia as opposition party dissolved

CAMBODIA’s government faced international criticism on Friday after a Supreme Court ruling saw the dissolution of the country’s only credible opposition party, effectively making Cambodia a one-party state.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved on Thursday evening on charges of treason after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government accused them of plotting to take power with the help of the United States. CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on Sept 3 and remains in jail awaiting trial.

The court ruling – that included a five-year political ban for 118 members of the CNRP – was met with widespread criticism, with Hun Sen’s critics calling it a power grab by the former Khmer general ahead of next year’s national election.

“This is the end of democracy in Cambodia,” CNRP Spokesman Yim Sovann said following the verdict. “We have not done anything wrong. We have fought for democracy. They have killed the will of more than three million people in Cambodia.”

SEE ALSO: Cambodia opposition leader Kem Sokha loses Supreme Court appeal for release


Police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court during a hearing to decide whether to dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

The international community have also condemned the move.

“An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded is not legitimate,” a statement from a European Union spokesperson said. “Respect of fundamental human rights is a prerequisite for Cambodia to continue to benefit from the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms scheme.”

That scheme giving tariff free access – and similar trade preferences in the United States – have helped Cambodia build a garment industry on low cost labour. Between them, EU and U.S. markets take some 60 percent of Cambodia’s exports.

Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said she was “deeply concerned” by the decision to dissolve the CNRP. In a statement released Friday, Bishop called on the Cambodia government to allow its citizens their democratic rights.

“This development has serious implications for democracy in Cambodia.  It is the culmination of a series of troubling actions, including reduced access to free media, restrictions on civil society and intimidation of the opposition, specifically the detention of CNRP Leader Kem Sokha,” the statement said.

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

“As a friend of Cambodia, Australia urges the Cambodian Government to allow all its citizens to exercise their democratic rights, particularly ahead of the 2018 national election.”

In a statement, UK Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field renewed the government’s calls to release CNRP leader Kem Sokha and said it would be considering what “further steps we shall take in response to this disturbing development.”

But the Cambodian government has dismissed threats of international action and has the support of China, the biggest aid donor and investor in Cambodia.

In a televised address on Thursday, Hun Sen told Cambodians the election would go ahead “as normal” and appealed to politicians from the CNRP who had not been banned to join his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Campaign group Human Rights Watch called for a “strong and concerted” international response to Hun Sen’s actions.

SEE ALSO: Cambodia: Release Kem Sokha or face travel ban – US senator

“The court ruling should lead to quick action by Cambodia’s donors and trade partners to impose targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and armed forces,” a statement released Thursday said.

“The European Union, Japan, and other donors should immediately suspend all financial and technical election assistance for the 2018 elections unless the CNRP is fully reinstated and permitted to compete.”