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Cambodia Supreme Court dissolves nation's primary opposition party

[JURIST] The Cambodia Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) [party website, in Khmer], the nation's primary opposition party, on Thursday, effectively opening the door for Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] to extend his 30-year reign as leader of the nation.

The ruling follows the arrest of CNRP's leader Kem Sokha following accusations that the party was plotting to overthrow the current government with the help of the US government. The court has also imposed a five-year ban on 118 members [Reuters report] of the party, effectively precluding them participating in any political activity. Sokha was viewed as a major threat to Hun Sen in the upcoming elections, and the CNRP has alleged that the accusations against the party and the arrests are politically motivated.

Sokha's daughter Kem Monovithya stated of her father's arrest: "It shows that Hun Sen will never stop if no one is stopping him. ... The verdict is expected. It's time for sanctions from the international community." Hun Sen, for his part, assured Cambodian citizens that the elections would proceed "as normal," while simultaneously calling on CNRP members who had not been banned to defect to his party.

US and China government officials have presently declined comment on the ruling, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced legislation [JURIST report] two weeks ago proposing restrictions on senior Cambodian government officials. The legislation identifies several ways in which the Cambodian government "continues to be undemocratically dominated" by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) [party website, in Khmer] and Prime Minister Hun Sen, including the passage of laws allowing the government to revoke the charters of non-governmental organizations on a political basis, the jailing of Sokha on treason charges, the imposition of severe media restrictions and the 2016 assassination of a frequent Hun Sen critic and activist Kem Ley.

The proposed legislation also calls on the Cambodian government to "to end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia's opposition and foster an environment where democracy can thrive and flourish" and support "electoral reform efforts in Cambodia and free and fair elections in 2018."

Rights groups have condemned the decision of the Court, which is headed by a judge who is a member of the ruling CPP, stating that the ruling has left Cambodia a de facto one-party government rendering next year’s election meaningless. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called the ruling "the death of democracy in Cambodia."

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