Cambodia's exiled ex-opposition leader announces return to politics

A man naps near police barricades outside the supreme court as they prepare for Thursday's hearing in the crucial case to dissolve the country's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in Phnom Penh Cambodia Nov. 15 2017. A Cambodian opposition

In 2013, when the CNRP alleged that widespread corruption robbed them of an election victory, mostly young protesters poured into the streets, facing down tear gas and water canisters in a display of newfound political engagement. He and his ruling government were almost defeated in the last national election in 2013, and support is growing for the opposition, especially among younger Cambodians eager for change.

Apparently hoping to prevent another close call, Hun Sen has been taking draconian measures against the CNRP ahead of the next election, such as instituting legal action to have it dissolved.

Rainsy has been living in self-exile, mostly in France since November 2015 to avoid at least eight-year prison sentence for defamation and incitement cases.

He resigned as party leader in February after CPP lawmakers moved to amend the Law on Political Parties to dissolve any political party led by someone convicted of a crime.

Current opposition leader, Kem Sokha, has been imprisoned since September, charged with trying to topple the government with US support, which Washington has said is a baseless accusation.

Security personnel guard the Supreme Court during its hearing in the crucial case to dissolve the country's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. Those who remain are keeping a low profile.

The court is widely expected to rule in favor of Prime Minister Hun Sen's request that his only viable political rival be quashed, effectively rendering Cambodia a one-party state.

"Dissolving the main opposition party, coupled with a heavy-handed crackdown on the media and civil society, certainly looks like the move of a dictator - a frightened one", said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, co-chairman of the House Cambodia caucus, said Cambodian elections next year would be a "sham".

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So far, Hun Sen has shown no sign of backing down and in fact appears to be mounting his biggest assault on Cambodian democracy since the coup.

According to Chheang Vanarith, Hun Sen "might have thought the Western countries are declining, particularly the United States and the liberal global order is being challenged by the Sino-centric worldwide order". "So the Chinese model of governance might be more appropriate for Cambodia", he added. The Nov. 14 statement spoke of "unfounded accusations and criticisms of the United States, including USA diplomats in Cambodia" that "contradict the spirit of improved and productive bilateral relations between our two countries".

It did not send lawyers for the court ruling.

He has hinted that after its dissolution, its senior leaders would be banned from politics for five years, similar to action taken in neighbouring Thailand against some politicians there.

He pointed to the fact that the president of the supreme court, Dith Munthy, 76, had been a member of Hun Sen's ruling party since 1989 and continued to serve on two committees.

"It is enough for the legitimacy of the government as long as the election results are recognised by our Cambodian people, and it is not necessary to ask foreign countries to recognise any of our elections", he said.

"Whatever Mr Hun Sen wants, he gets".

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