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A file photo of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.—Reuters
A file photo of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.—Reuters

PARIS: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen will be driven from power like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, veteran opposition chief Sam Rainsy said on Thursday, adding that Western states should impose targeted sanctions after his party was dissolved.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned at the government’s request last week, deepening Hun Sen’s fight with Western donors who accuse him of demolishing democracy in the country he has ruled for over 32 years.

Rainsy resigned in February from the party, saying he feared it would be banned if he did not. Defamation convictions that he calls politically motivated drove him to flee Cambodia for France in 2015.

“Cambodia is at a tipping point. The people are fed up with Hun Sen and what is happening in Zimbabwe is inspiring,” Rainsy said in the interview.

“Mugabe has fallen and it will soon be the turn of Hun Sen, who has become unacceptably anachronistic.” Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe from independence in 1980, stepped down on Tuesday after the army seized power and the ruling party turned against him.

Hun Sen’s government called for the CNRP ban after arresting its leader Kem Sokha on Sept 3. It charged him with treason for an alleged plot to take over the Southeast Asian country with the help of the United States.

His opponents say the charges were intended to eliminate Kem Sokha from next year’s election so the strongman, who is currently the world’s longest serving prime minister, can extend his rule.

Rainsy, who announced his return to politics on Nov 15, described the party ban as “just on paper”.

He said the opposition needed to demonstrate that it continued to garner “strong support” after winning some three million votes in the 2013 elections, and push Cambodia’s main western donors to shy away from the Phnom Penh government.

“What is important is to show Hun Sen that what he did was unacceptable. The world is not going to do business as usual with this government ... and needs to tell him it would never recognize a government that came out of these elections,” he said.

According to a recording leaked online on Thursday, Hun Sen has warned his party it could still lose the vote even after the CNRP was banned, and he demanded that it improve its image.

Western countries have condemned the government’s crackdown on the opposition and civil rights groups.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017