Cambodia’s Democratic Transition Has Collapsed, With Dangerous Consequences


As Cambodia prepares for national elections in two years, its politics have veered dangerously out of control, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick. Even though young Cambodians are demanding political alternatives and accessing more information outside of state media, the country’s transition toward two-party politics has collapsed. The government’s brutal tactics of the 1990s and early 2000s, when political activists were routinely murdered and opposition parties nearly put out of business, have returned. Young Cambodians may be left with no outlet for their grievances, creating a potentially explosive situation, especially given the promise of reform and dialogue just a few years ago, he writes for World Politics Review: In 2013, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), an alliance of opposition groups, came together in time for general elections and nearly defeated the Cambodian People’s Party, whose dominance stretches back to the end of the Khmer Rouge era in 1979. Cambodia seemed poised for a transition to a freer, more democratic system. What went wrong?….

Hun Sen’s government still controls all the most important political institutions. Despite promises to the opposition to clean up the election commission, it appears unlikely that it will be any less partisan in 2018 than it was in 2013. Hun Sen and the CPP dominate the judiciary. In the past, Cambodia’s king might have played a role as a moral leader and potential critic of the government, but the current monarch, Norodom Sihamoni, is much more reliant on Hun Sen than his predecessor, long-ruling Norodom Sihinaouk. Hun Sen’s office is even said to control the king’s schedule.


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