PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's opposition party was set to meet Sunday (Feb 12) after the shock resignation of its founder and leader, an official said, with the movement increasingly boxed in by the country's strongman premier.
Sam Rainsy, who has been at the forefront of the kingdom's opposition scene for two decades, announced his resignation from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in a letter posted on social media late Saturday.
His departure casts doubt over the prospects of a party that poses the only genuine challenge to PM Hun Sen's 32-year rule in 2018 elections.
Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile since 2015 to avoid convictions and lawsuits he says are politically motivated, did not elaborate on the reasons for his resignation.
But analysts say it was likely an attempt to dodge new legislation proposed by Hun Sen's government that would bar convicts from serving as party leaders and could lead to the CNRP's dissolution if Rainsy stayed on.
Party officials have been tight-lipped on the development, but Rainsy's deputy released a brief statement Sunday saying the exit was "an honourable decision made in consultation with the leaders of the party".
The CNRP's deputy public affairs chief said an urgent meeting would be held in the afternoon to chart the party's future.
"#CNRP is holding a Permanent Committee meeting at 2PM today, followed by Steering Committee meeting, in light of #SamRainsy resignation," Monovithya Kem wrote on Twitter.
Political analyst Ou Virak called the development a "new low" for a party that has been floundering under mounting pressure from Hun Sen's government as polls approach.
Rights groups accuse the authoritarian premier of a sweeping crackdown on critics and rivals ever since he nearly lost his office to the CNRP in 2013.
"The ruling party has been tightening its grip slowly but surely," Ou Virak told AFP, adding that local commune elections set for June would be "an uphill battle" for the CNRP.