Cambodia’s Supreme Court court ordered the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party Thursday, a move observers say marks another disturbing blow to democracy.
The CNRP did not send any legal representative to the courtroom during the announcement, which Chief Judge Dith Munty said was tantamount to a confession. Munty is a senior member of the CPP.
In a statement obtained by the Phonm Penh Post, the CNRP said the Supreme Court is “robbing the people” and it won’t acknowledge the decision.
“Today the Supreme Court gave a blow to democracy but not a fatal one, as the democratic movement for change inside and outside Cambodia will be glued together stronger than ever,” CNRP Deputy Vice President Mu Sochua said, according to the Post.
The US State Department said in a statement the decision to dissolve the CNRP was “based on meritless and politicized allegations that it participated in a conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
Cambodia has functioned as a nominal democracy since 1993, following decades of turmoil and deadly power struggles in the wake of a protracted civil war. But in recent months, Hun’s rule has become increasingly autocratic, with Thursday’s ruling marking the latest in a series of assaults on the country’s opposition and wider civil society.
In September, opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on charges of treason. The Supreme Court turned down his appeal last month. This was followed by the forced closure of prominent independent English-language newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, after it received a massive tax bill and given 30 days to comply, a move many claim was politically motivated.
Analysts say Hun’s tactics appear intended to consolidate the ruling party’s power and quash momentum generated by the opposition during local elections in June, when they took close to half of all seats.
In recent years, Cambodia has been the recipient of billions of dollars in international investment and aid as the country seeks to modernize its infrastructure and open its economy. Human Rights Watch and other NGOs have called on Cambodia’s benefactor states, which include China and the US, to take concrete action in response to the Thursday ruling.
The US State Department said the United States would take “concrete steps” in response, the first of which would be terminating American support for the Cambodian National Election Committee.
“It is becoming increasingly evident to the world that the Cambodian government’s restrictions on civil society, suppression of the press, and banning of more than 100 opposition leaders from political activities have significantly set back Cambodia’s democratic development and placed its economic growth and international standing at risk,” the statement said.
The Foreign Ministries of both Australia and the United Kingdom also spoke out against Thursday’s ruling. “This development has serious implications for democracy in Cambodia. It is the culmination of a series of troubling actions, including reduced access to free media, restrictions on civil society and intimidation of the opposition,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement Friday. “With the dissolution of the CNRP, a significant number of votes cast in that election are no longer recognized.”
Mark Field, the British minister for Asia and the Pacific, said his government was “dismayed” by the decision. “This effectively renders Cambodia a one-party state in its parliament and delegitimizes next year’s general election,” he said in a statement.