Cambodia By Laura Craft and Rebekah Alexander

  • Population: 13,329,000
  • Capital: Phnom Penh
  • Language: Khmer (96.3%), Other (3.7%)
  • Religions: Buddhism (Official- 96.9%), Muslim (1.9%), Other (1.2%) (1)
Cambodia on a map of Southeast Asia(Left), Flag of Cambodia(Right)

In 1863, French colonized Cambodia, which would eventually last for about 90 years. This changed following World War II which resulted in the dismantlement of French colonialism, in 1953. Cambodia then received its independence from France and became a kingdom under King Sihanouk. (2)

Khmer Rouge Republic

After a coup in 1970, King Sihanouk was overthrown by Prime Minister Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge Republic, a communist regime, was established. In 1975 Lon Nol is overthrown as the Khmer Rouge occupy Phnom Penh, Cambodia is renamed Kampuchea. (2)

This began “Year Zero”- a phrase coined by the Khmer Rouge. All city-dwellers were forcibly relocated and to countryside and forced into agricultural labor force, thousands died during the exodus. The economy was drastically changed as money became worthless, religion was banned, and human rights were forgotten. (2)

In next 3 years the Khmer Rouge regime began a radical Marxist-Leninist transformation. The Regime abolished religion and public institutions by turning all schools, churches, universities, shops, and government buildings into prisons and reeducation camps. During this time the people were deprived of basic human rights. Hundreds of thousands of intellectuals, minorities, and others accused of being traitors were detained, tortured, and executed, leaving a death toll of over 1.7 million people. (3)

Finally in 1993 Cambodia holds its first general election which brings the rise of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and the current model of government. (3)

The Current Political System

The current Cambodian government is under a parliamentary constitutional monarchy in which the king, King Norodom Sihamoni, is chief or head of state. The monarchy stands more so as a symbol for national unity and less a source of political power. (4)

Under the Cambodian constitution, their bicameral legislature is made up of a 61-seat Senate and a 123-seat National Assembly. This Assembly is elected by party voting every 5 years and helps the king elect the members of senate every 6 years. Alongside the king there is a prime minister, currently Hun Sen (since 1985), who is approved by the Assembly and appointed by the king. Suffrage is dependent on strict citizenship laws that require permanent resident status and are relatively rigid. (4)

Majoritarianism and a Patriarchal Society

Hun Sen, CPP Party Leader and Prime Minister(Left), Sam Rainsy, CNRP Leader(Upper Right), Freedom House freedom rating(Lower Right)

Today in Cambodia, human rights and political corruption has brought forth the distrust in democracy as well as in the leaders of said democracy. The current prime minister, Hun Sen, has been in office since 1985, using military force. Cambodia has ranked high as a corrupt nation due to its continuous human rights violations like persecutions of opposition members, activist, human right workers, and opposition politicians. (5)

Along with the imprisonment of the CPP’s opposing party the CNRP, Cambodian National Rescue Party, the prime minister has posed heinous acts upon his community. The patriarchal mindset of many Asian countries allows for this type of democracy with the prime example being Cambodia. (5)

Crest of the Cambodian People's Party

Suppression of Minorities and Human Rights

Currently, the Cambodian People's Party, under Prime Minister Hun Sen, is the ruling majority party in Cambodia. However, this is not a reflection of the people, there has been a rise in opposition and disagreement with acts and policies of Hun Sen and the CPP. (6)

In July 2014 there was a surge of good fortune when Hun Sen agreed to have free and fair elections, however these elections were neither free nor fair. After the CPP won 68 out of the 123 legislative seats. The opposition party, Cambodian National Rescue Party(CNRP), claimed that the CPP had defrauded many of the seats which would have adjusted the balance of power to a more fair government. (6)

All major institutions, including the military, police, judiciary, media, and the National Election Committee are all under the control of the CPP, which have continuously prevented large numbers of opposition supporters from being included in voting lists. (6)

Due to this corruption, people have attempted to protest in order to bring about change, however Hun Sen saw this opposition as a direct attack on himself and suspended the people of Cambodia's constitutional right to freedom of assembly. (6)

"I not only weaken the opposition, I'm going to make them dead... and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage". ~ Hun Sen (6)

Lack of freedom of speech has caused widespread discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities. In a vastly homogenous society(97.6% Khmer and 96.9% Buddhist), without minority representation, Cambodia has received a very low freedom rating for civil liberties. (7)

The surge of political unrest has resulted in overwhelming racism toward the Vietnamese, Cambodia's largest minority. This even resulted in the brutal mass beating of a young Vietnamese man after a minor traffic ticket in a public square. (7)

The underrepresentation of minorities and the overwhelming corruption of Hun Sen and the CPP is an example of a manipulation of the values of an Asian Democracy. (8)

Potential Solutions

As Gilley makes known, Asian models of majoritarian democracy are meant to maintain cooperation and make the government more effective, however Hun Sen has manipulated these values to repress the people and remain in power. For example, in 2014, after a year of political unrest, following a year long protest, Sam Rainsy agreed to sign an agreement with Hun Sen and to drop any former complaints. (8)

This creates a lapse in dialogue which does not benefit the community. Some solutions for the people in Cambodia would be to connect more with the poor as well as continue to create dialogue between the opposition and the government.

In order to maintain an Asian Democracy built on the tenants of social harmony and cooperation, the CPP must allow for free and fair elections in order to create this cooperation between themselves and the opposition. The right to freedom of assembly must be returned to the people in order for them to voice their concerns. Lastly, the institutionalization of government must be meant to maintain peace and not be manipulated by the Prime Minister to remain in power. (8)


Created with images by Schwarzkaefer - "The Orange Line" • kylemac - "cambodia map" • Free Grunge Textures - - "Cambodia Grunge Flag" • manhhai - "US Embassy April 29, 1975"

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