Reversing Cambodia’s democratic drift

Cambodia is drifting towards autocracy with a clear trend. An unprecedented crackdown on independent media, civil society and the country’s major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), hardly suggest otherwise. Whether Hun Sen’s government likes it or not, similar observations about Cambodia will continue to emerge, according to analysts Kimkong Heng, University of Queensland and Veasna Var, UNSW Canberra. The regime has been strangling the entire political opposition, as well as labor unions, NGOs (including the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy), and every other institution comprising Cambodian civil society, analyst Martha Bayles observed.Reversing Cambodia’s descent into a one-party state is crucial for both the incumbent government and Cambodia at large. The process has to begin with political willingness, effective mechanisms, and firm internal and external pressure, they write for East Asia Forum:

  • External pressure may have some, but likely insignificant, effects on the Cambodian government. China’s support and a fear of losing power has given the ruling elites an obvious choice. They will aim to stay in power and do whatever possible to avoid regime change, or ‘maintain peace and stability’ — a phrase frequently used by CPP elites. Hun Sen and his team will look to China under mounting pressure from the West.
  • One viable approach to halting the degeneration of Cambodia’s ersatz democracy is to engage in channels of dialogue at both national and international levels. At the national level, it is imperative to resume the culture of dialogue between the ruling CPP and the dissolved CNRP.
  • Dialogue at the international level requires participation and coordination from key external players that have significant leverage over Cambodia’s political and economic landscape, such as the United States, the European Union and China. Other players like Australia, Japan and ASEAN are also important.


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