PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s ruling party on Monday voted to redistribute parliamentary seats held by the embattled main opposition if—as expected—it is dissolved by a court in coming weeks, reports AFP.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has hacked away at the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in recent months, chasing most of its 55 MPs into self-exile, as he flexes his muscles before an election in 2018 that could have tested his 32-year grip on power.
Earlier this month his government asked the top court to dissolve the CNRP, whose existence is hanging by a thread after its leader was arrested on treason charges.
The supreme court has not given a date for its ruling but it is expected this year.
On Monday all 67 ruling party MPs, including Hun Sen, voted to amend the law to allow the election authority to redistribute seats or local posts held by a dissolved party to other parties represented in elections.
None of the CNRP’s MPs attended Monday’s vote.
Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), said the change was needed to take account of the “shifting political situation”.
Analysts predict the main beneficiary will be the royalist Funcinpec Party, headed by Prince Norodom Norodom Ranariddh, half-brother to the current king.
Ranariddh, who was ousted as Cambodia’s prime minister by a bloody coup in 1997, launched his latest political comeback in 2015 pledging an alliance with Hun Sen, the man who toppled him.
Hun Sen’s ruling party is expected to grab all 489 commune chief seats belonging to the CNRP if the opposition is dissolved.
The amendments will still need approval from the Senate and the king’s signature, but these are seen as formalities.
The government has used a mixture of court cases, other legal manoeuvres and threats to sideline the opposition’s leadership and drive out more than half of its MPs for fear of arrest.
The exodus, prompted by the surprise arrest of the party’s president Kem Sokha last month, has raised serious doubts about the party’s ability to contest next year’s election.
The legal move to shut down the CNRP comes several weeks after Hun Sen threatened to dissolve the party if its MPs continued to “protect” Kem Sokha, the CNRP president who has been charged with treason.
Hun Sen alleged Kem Sokha was conspiring in a “secret plan” with Washington to oust the government.
In a message sent through his lawyers on Monday, Kem Sokha blasted the treason charge as “total slander”—a view echoed by the US and other democratic countries which have called for his immediate release.