Cambodia could bar main opposition party from elections

PHNOM PENH • Cambodia's government has raised the possibility that the main opposition party in the country could be ruled out of elections if it does not replace its leader, Kem Sokha, who has been charged with treason.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has already said it will not replace its leader and the comments reinforced its fears that Prime Minister Hun Sen plans to cripple it before next year's elections.

The arrest of Kem Sokha on Sunday drew Western condemnation and marked an escalation in a crackdown on critics of Mr Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 30 years and could face possibly his toughest electoral challenge from the CNRP next year.

"They have to appoint an acting president," government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters on Tuesday. "If they don't comply with the law, they will not exist and have no right to political activity... It's their choice, not my choice."

Kem Sokha's daughter, Ms Kem Monovithya, a party official, said it will not appoint a new leader. Kem Sokha himself became leader only in February, after his predecessor resigned over fears that the party would be banned if he stayed on.

"The ruling party can drop their divide-and-conquer plan now," she said. Opposition officials accuse Mr Hun Sen of trying to weaken or destroy the party ahead of the election, after it did well in June local elections, in which it nonetheless came well behind Mr Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Cambodia could bar main opposition party from elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe