PNHOM PENH • Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on lawmakers from the main opposition party to defect ahead of a court ruling on whether to dissolve it, saying they could be banned from politics for five years if they left the party too late.
The government's move to ban the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) follows the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha on treason charges.
He rejects the charges as politically motivated ahead of next year's general election.
Mr Hun Sen, the world's longest-serving prime minister, has held power for more than 32 years.
Western countries have called for the release of Kem Sokha and for an end to attempts to dissolve the CNRP.
Mr Hun Sen has said his rival was getting help from the United States. The US Embassy in Phnom Penh has rejected any suggestion of interference in politics.
The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has also intensified a crackdown on independent media and human rights groups in recent months, forcing the closure of several news outlets.
I want to give you this opportunity to continue in your job... It will not only be that the party is dissolved and then the matter is finished. Maybe more than 100 people will be banned from politics for five years.
MR HUN SEN, to opposition lawmakers.
The Supreme Court is due to rule on Nov 16 whether to dissolve the CNRP after the government last month filed a lawsuit asking to dissolve it on grounds that it was involved in a plot to topple the government.
Mr Hun Sen said in a message to CNRP parliamentarians and local councillors that he knew not all were involved in Kem Sokha's alleged treason and they should take the chance to switch to his ruling CPP.
"I want to give you this opportunity to continue in your job," he said yesterday.
"It will not only be that the party is dissolved and then the matter is finished. Maybe more than 100 people will be banned from politics for five years."
He said such a ban was likely to include all the CNRP's steering committee - meaning most of its Members of Parliament, around half of whom have fled Cambodia to escape arrest.
No CNRP officials were immediately available for comment.
Cambodia's Supreme Court is, in theory, independent of the government in ruling on the Interior Ministry's request for the CNRP to be banned, but Mr Hun Sen has said it is "a fact" that the party will be dissolved.
Cambodia's Parliament has already passed a law to share out elected positions to other parties if the CNRP is dissolved.
Most of the seats in Parliament will go to minor parties, while local councils, known as communes, will be taken over by the ruling party.