More CNRP commune councillors yesterday defected to the ruling CPP, while prominent US Senator Ted Cruz threatened extended travel bans on Cambodian officials unless opposition leader Kem Sokha is freed by November 9.
The defections came after Prime Minister Hun Sen told CNRP leaders they must join his party to keep their jobs, since he was 99.99 percent sure the opposition would be dissolved.
The defectors were from Phnom Penh and from Takeo, Stung Teng and Kampong Thom provinces.
Sman Him, 52, a councillor from Chraing Chamreh I commune in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, said he defected after learning of Mr Sokha’s allegedly treasonous acts.
“Kem Sokha and the CNRP bowed to serving foreigners in order to have power, without thinking they were undermining the nation,” he said.
Chan Chory, 65, first commune councillor of Champei commune in Takeo province’s Bati district, also wrote a letter requesting to join the CPP owing to the accusations against Mr Sokha.
Senator Cruz, a former contender for the Republican nomination for president, meanwhile wrote to Cambodia’s US ambassador Chum Bun Rong, calling for Mr Sokha’s released.
“If Kem Sokha remains imprisoned on November 9, the final day for voters to register for the July elections, it will be impossible for any impartial observer or nation to certify that elections in your country have been free and fair,” the letter said.
“If your Prime Minister does not release Kem Sokha by November 9, I will work with my colleagues in Congress and in the Trump administration to see that specified government officials responsible for those actions are prevented from travelling to the United States.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed Senator Cruz’s letter as an interference.
“This is an insulting invasion into the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” Mr Siphan said.
He added that it was unbecoming for a United States Senator to openly and blatantly threaten and blackmail a smaller sovereign state which has a democratically elected government.
“The dissolution of the opposition party is within the jurisdiction of the courts. Cambodia cannot risk its independence to a group betraying the nation.”
CNRP vice-president Eng Chhay Eang, who fled the country, posted on Facebook to ask all opposition representatives at provincial, municipal, district and commune level, to “protect the will of people who voted for CNRP” in 2013 and 2017 polls.
“We must do so to respect human rights, principles of multiple-party democracy and free and fair elections,” Mr Chhay Eang said, adding he was optimistic the international community would not allow Cambodia to go backwards in its development.
He however did not address the possibility of the opposition law makers having betrayed the will of the people by boycotting the parliament instead of representing them, the people in the various debates in the National Assembly which may have a direct effect on the voters’ lives.
CNRP vice-president Pol Ham confirmed on Monday the party would not prohibit its members of parliament or commune chiefs from defecting to the CPP following a call from the Prime Minister for them to do so.
Also yesterday, the Constitutional Council passed amendments to four election laws to determine how the CNRP’s seats in parliament and local authorities will be redistributed if and when the party is dissolved.
Council spokesman Min Sean said the laws had been passed in line with due process and would be sent back to the National Assembly before being given to the King for sign-off.
The changes, requested by the ruling CPP, relate to the distribution of party seats in the National Assembly and Senate, as well as provincial, municipal, district and commune councils.
Government lawyer Ky Tech said he had submitted additional evidence to the Supreme Court in the case for the dissolution of the CNRP.
The latest evidence relates to former CNRP president Sam Rainsy and video footage recorded in June 2011 in the US state of Massachusetts.
“This is the 22nd piece of evidence that we have submitted to the Supreme Court,” Mr Tech said, declining to give further detail.
He said the Supreme Court would go ahead with the case regardless of whether the CNRP responds to a deadline to respond to accusations against the party.
“We have enough evidence to dissolve the party according to the law,” he said.