PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The odds of the dissolution of Cambodia’s main opposition party now stand at 100 to 1, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday, ahead of a court ruling expected to decide the matter next week.
The remarks come amid a strengthening crackdown on critics by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of a general election in July 2018 where Hun Sen is expected to face the toughest electoral challenge of his political career.
His government asked the Supreme Court to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) after its leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on Sept. 3 and charged with treason.
“Please bet whether it will be dissolved or not, it’s a 1 against 100 odds,” Hun Sen told thousands of garment workers in Phnom Penh, the capital.
“Please bet on it at noodle restaurants, do it, it’s all open for betting.”
Critics see the crackdown on opposition members as Hun Sen’s way of tightening his grip on power ahead of the crucial vote.
Dissolving the CNRP would eliminate the biggest challenge to Hun Sen’s rule and help to prolong his more than 32 years in power. Western donors have criticized the move and called for the release of Kem Sokha.
Hun Sen urged opposition members to defect to the ruling party before the court hearing.
“I would like to give you an opportunity,” he added.
Last month a European Parliament delegation warned that Cambodia could face EU action over aid and vital trade preferences if its human rights situation worsened.
Dissolving the opposition would be the “death of democracy” in Cambodia, Mu Sochua, a deputy to Kem Sokha who fled abroad in September fearing arrest, told Reuters.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez