Cambodia’s government on Friday took the initial legal steps seeking to dissolve the country’s major opposition party, the latest in a series of moves to gain an advantage ahead of next year’s general election.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court asking for the Cambodia National Rescue Party to be dissolved on the ground that it was involved in a plot to topple the government.
The CNRP is the only party aside from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party with representatives in parliament, and no third party comes even close in terms of popularity and support. The opposition posed an unexpectedly strong challenge in 2013’s general election and the government has since has taken steps to tighten its grip on power.
Khieu Sopheak said the government had received “21 pieces of concrete evidence to prove that the opposition party has intentionally sought to topple the government through a ‘color revolution.’”
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was charged last month with treason for allegedly working with the United States to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, in a “color revolution,” a term used to describe movements to replace governments in a number of countries.
The opposition party has denied the treason allegation, saying the charge is politically motivated. Many senior CNRP leaders have since fled the country, fearing arrest.
If the Supreme Court finds the opposition party guilty of violating the Political Party Law, not only would it be dissolved, but its leaders would be banned from involvement in politics for five years.
The ministry acted after it received complaints from two parties with no lawmakers in parliament that are generally believed to have been acting at the government’s behest.
The arrest of Kem Sokha has sharply escalated political tensions and raised questions over whether the upcoming elections could be free and fair.
The charge against Kem Sokha was based on videos from several years ago that showed him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups. He could face up to 30 years in prison.