The party was accused of plotting against the government. Observers question the court’s independence. The authorities boost security forces. More than half of party’s MPs have fled abroad together with vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country's main opposition party, the only electoral threat to the governing party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The historic ruling will see the opposition party disbanded and bans 118 most senior party officials from politics for five years -- including party president Kem Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy. The CNRP will lose all 489 of its municipal chiefs and all 55 of its seats in the National Assembly.
On 6 October, Cambodian government lawyers had filed a motion seeking the dissolution of the CNRP.
The attempt to dissolve followed the arrest and indictment on treason charges of CNRP president Kem Sokha, who has been in government custody since 3 September.
Government lawyers accuse opposition leaders of conspiring with foreign forces to overthrow the government, citing a 2013 video in which Sokha is seen talking with US experts about a strategy to win power.
The CNRP has rejected the charges and denounced a plan by Prime Minister Hun Sen to win the next year's election and extend his 32-year rule.
For the ruling Cambodia's People Party (CPP), the CNRP represents the most serious challenge in more than a decade. The CPP won by a few votes in the 2013 elections, the worst result for Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998, when Cambodia adopted a democratic system again.
The CPP also lost ground in June this year in local elections that allowed the CNRP to win in two major cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Observers question the fairness of the Supreme Court’s decision since it is made up of long-time members closely affiliated with the ruling party.
The Supreme Court’s chief justice Dith Muny is a member of the CPP’s top-level Permanent Committee and deputy chief justice Khim Ponn is a member of the CPP’s Central Committee, whilst other top court officials are related to Hun Sen’s family through marriage or have close ties to the CPP.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier called on CNRP lawmakers to defect to his own party ahead of the ruling. He also said he was sure the party would be dissolved, adding "I dare to bet my life on this happening".
Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, more than half of CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s government is building up the presence of security forces across the country in anticipation of a public outcry.
More than 300 security personnel conducted exercises at police headquarters in the seat of western Cambodia’s Battambang province on Wednesday morning before being deployed to various posts around the city.
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, is a staunch ally of China, and Beijing has backed efforts by his government to enforce security and national stability.
Western powers have condemned Sokha's arrest and Washington has denied any interference in the country's politics.