PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's strongman premier Hun Sen has set July 29 as the date for a highly anticipated 2018 general election, according to a document seen by AFP on Saturday.
The poll will be a major test for the authoritarian premier, whose government has spent the past few years cracking down on an opposition movement trying to break his 32-year grip on power.
"Sunday July 29, 2018 is set as the date of the election of members of parliament for the sixth mandate," said the government statement signed by Hun Sen on July 28 (2017).
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made significant strides in local polls last month that were seen as a barometer for the upcoming general election, which will be Cambodia's first since 2013.
The gains came despite Hun Sen's protracted efforts to sideline opposition politicians and activists, who have been targeted by a series of court cases.
Some 27 political prisoners have been thrown in jail since 2013 with dozens of ongoing prosecutions against others, according to a tally by Amnesty International.
On Friday Hun Sen's government finalised a law that bans political parties from working with convicts - an apparent stab at the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has a string of convictions which he argues are politically-motivated.
Hun Sen, one of the world's longest serving leaders, portrays himself as a premier who has brought growth and stability to an impoverished country ravaged by decades of war.
But critics say corruption, inequality and rights abuses have flourished under his watch.
The often blunt premier has dramatically ramped up his rhetoric in recent months, warning that civil war could break out if his ruling party is defeated in the 2018 poll.
Last month, he called on critics to "prepare coffins" and warned he would eliminate "100 or 200 people" if stability was threatened.