Prime Minister Hun Sen took aim at opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s assets and title as party president on Tuesday, including threatening to have the courts auction off the CNRP’s headquarters, in a speech at the National Assembly that Mr. Rainsy said exposed the incumbent’s “panic” ahead of upcoming elections.
Dropping all pretense of political civility, Mr. Hun Sen threatened to have the courts seize Mr. Rainsy’s property and proposed a legal amendment that would ban Mr. Rainsy from political party leadership because he is a convicted criminal. He also told government officials to prevent any attempts by Mr. Rainsy to transfer the ownership of his properties, and dared the exiled opposition leader to return to Cambodia and face arrest, despite the government having officially banned his return.
“Now, come,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “I’ll make this clear: I will try my best to handcuff you.”
The property seizures, Mr. Hun Sen said, could begin as soon as the courts delivered a final decision on a defamation lawsuit he filed against Mr. Rainsy seeking $1 million—the same amount the opposition leader said the prime minister offered to a young political activist to attack the CNRP.
Mr. Rainsy, who is living in exile in Paris, has been summoned for questioning over the case at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on February 14.
Mr. Hun Sen told Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, who had previously won a defamation case that earned Mr. Rainsy a two-year prison sentence, to have his lawyer ask the courts to freeze the CNRP president’s assets. He said they should do so until additional decisions were made on defamation lawsuits brought by himself and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
“I heard that the party’s headquarters is under Sam Rainsy’s name, so then let’s auction the party’s headquarters,” he said. “I appeal to authorities involved in ownership transfers to not be in a hurry to transfer ownership.”
Mr. Hun Sen said Mr. Rainsy also had a number of land holdings in Preah Sihanouk province that could be sold to pay plaintiffs, reiterating that any money he received from the case would go toward building houses for the disabled.
The premier also requested that CPP lawmakers, who hold a majority of seats in parliament, move to amend the Law on Political Parties to include a provision that would ban convicts from serving as president of a party. The move would prevent Mr. Rainsy, who is wanted for arrest on the previous defamation conviction, from officially leading the CNRP.
“I request to make a change on this to make him lose all rights,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Those who are found guilty have no rights to stand as president or deputy president of a political party.”
Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha has been the acting CNRP president since Mr. Rainsy decided not to return to Cambodia to face arrest in November 2015. Mr. Sokha was pardoned late last year, at the request of Mr. Hun Sen, from a five-month sentence for refusing to appear in court over a “prostitution” case.
Tuesday’s session of parliament was held to amend Article 48 of the Assembly’s internal rules—part of a 2014 deal between the CNRP and CPP that ended a post-election political crisis—to remove provisions creating an official “minority group” and “minority leader” to engage in dialogue with the prime minister.
That measure was passed by the 67 ruling party lawmakers in attendance. Only Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was absent. The CNRP’s 54 lawmakers boycotted the session.
Mr. Rainsy said in an email from Paris that the CPP was showing its desperation ahead of “certain defeat” in commune elections in June and national elections next year.
“These threats show the panic of Hun Sen,” he said. “He no longer has any appeal to the electorate, so he personally hounds me, as I am the symbol of resistance to his autocratic and corrupt power.”
“The threats are entirely self-defeating and show a dysfunctional ruling party in the final stages of panic,” he added. “Hun Sen has tried for years to misuse the courts to exclude me from politics and to suppress or divide the CNRP, so in that sense, there is nothing new. He has failed because the CNRP remains a united force that will defeat him at the 2017 and 2018 elections.”
Senior opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, speaking at a news conference at CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, said any loss of property would only be a bump on the party’s road to victory.
“It’s not a worry. The CNRP has already suffered many difficulties,” he said. “The people’s support does not depend on our headquarters being here. People support the CNRP because of our efforts to reform the country’s management, human rights and justice.”
Mr. Chhay said the CPP’s increasing attacks were only strengthening the public’s dissatisfaction with the ruling party.
“I think if they continue like this, it will only make people unhappy and turn more and more people to support us,” he said.
“You should consider this: If we compare the CPP and CNRP headquarters, they are opposites, like sky and earth,” he added. “We know that altogether the CPP has many tools, like television, vehicles, officials, money—and we have nothing, but people still support the CNRP.”
(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)