Cambodia’s political, civic, and media landscape remains bleak as the July 2018 elections approach, with civil society facing an uptick in attacks and restrictions on their operations and funding, note Lana Baydas and Lauren Mooney of the CSIS’s Human Rights Initiative.
The international community’s leverage is speculated to have diminished as China’s influence expands in the country through its backing of the ruling party and its significant economic investment, thereby emboldening Hun Sen, they write in a new report, “Cambodian Civil Society at a Critical Juncture”:
Civil society organizations have not been able to escape similar problems that plague the government, including weak governance, poor financial management, and instances of corruption. Deeply engrained in the culture of Cambodia are complex patron relations and networks. This has allowed some CSOs or individuals to be susceptible to offers of bribes or positions from the government or from government-supported stakeholders, including the private sector. Additionally, rumors abound surrounding CSOs’ receipt of funds from China or the government in exchange for the abstention or dilution of any negative messaging targeted at the CPP.
“The government has increasingly attempted to stifle dissent and incite the opposition’s demise,” they add. “In response, the international community, donors, and civil society must take action in order to halt further precipitation into a one-party autocracy and to preserve the remnants of Cambodian democratic framework that still remain.”