Cambodia's exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy resigns

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy

One day before his resignation, the former CNRP leader had criticised the National Assembly and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) over the preparation for a new law to "expediently dissolve the CNRP by pointing at me as the pretext".

The head of Cambodia's opposition party announced his resignation from the group on Saturday in apparent response to plans by the country's long-serving prime minister for a law that could lead to the party's dissolution.

Sam Rainsy, a popular figure who has been living in Paris, said the surprise decision was "for the sake" of his Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which faces crucial commune elections in June.

"In all circumstances I continue to cherish and to uphold the CNRP's ideals in my heart", he said on his Facebook page.

Party officials have been tight-lipped on the development, but Rainsy's deputy released a brief statement Sunday saying the exit was "an honourable decision made in consultation with the leaders of the party".

Hun Sen said this month that a law was being amended to stop anyone convicted of an offence from running for office for five years, effectively barring his main rival from elections.

His resignation comes shortly after Hun Sen proposed amending political party laws to bar convicts from leadership positions - a clear threat to Rainsy, who has always been his top foe and the target of his political machinations.

Mr Rainsy has faced several lawsuits from the government and is now overseas to avoid a two-year prison sentence for defamation.

The opposition says the lawsuits are without merit, and just a legal ploy to try to cripple it. Cambodia's courts are widely seen as being under the influence of Hun Sen and his party.

Last Thursday, a court uphold a lower court ruling that found Mr Sam Rainsy guilty of another defamation case over claims that people close to Mr Hun Sen bought "likes" for his Facebook page. Hun Sen has a history of using a carrot-and-stick approach to successfully divide his opponents. Rainsy's resignation is likely to further unsettle the opposition's integrity.

"Sam Rainsy can come back later", the analyst said. A third of the country's 9.5 million voters are less than 30 years old.

Sam Rainsy, center, talks to journalists upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 16, 2015.

"If he'd taken the higher more ethical road he would have had more support internationally", he said.

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