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Southeast Asian Affairs 2005 HUN SEN'S CONSOLIDATION Death or Beginning of Reform? Steve Heder Introduction Events of 2004 were the dénouement not only of the national elections of July 2003 and subsequent political deadlock, but of the decade of political transition since the departure of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and even of the course of Cambodia's political trajectory since the end of French colonialism. The UNTAC elections of 1993 aimed at restoring the country's independence and peace following ten years of communist Vietnamese occupation and insurgency against them and their Cambodian protégées. The elections were intended to launch the country on the path of liberal democracy, free market economics and human rights. None of these had existed in Cambodia since the early 1950s, in the twilight of French colonialism and early years of King Norodom Sihanouk's reign, when nascent liberal democrats and Khmer Issarak insurgents contested his control of the French-constructed administrative state. Democracy, market economics and human rights were suppressed under Sihanouk's postindependence Sangkum regime, murderously expunged during the 1975-78 rule of the Khmer Rouge, and repressed under the Vietnamese who liberated Cambodia from Pol Pot, but imposed their own colonial-like, socialist state-building project. The UNTAC mandate over Cambodia and the years since have been analogous to the earlier period of contestation for control of a post-colonial state in Cambodia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. 2004 saw it end with the overwhelming victory of prime minister Hun Sen and his political and economic entourage, self-made Steve Heder has researched Cambodian politics since the early 1970s and currently teaches politics at the Faculty ofLaw and Social Sciences ofLondon University's School of Oriental and African Studies. 114Steve Heder men who emerged out ofthe apparatus created by theVietnamese and the beginnings of market liberalization in the late 1980s. Their decisive triumph may determine the trajectory of Cambodian politics for many years to come. Their political juggernaut is interknit through marriages among children ofkey players, including premier Hun Sen, deputy premier Sok An, national police chief Hok Langdy and army procurement czar Moeng Samphan.1 Family connections and economic interests link them and other members of Hun Sen's political entourage, such as army generals Pol Sareuan and Kun Kim and agriculture minister Chan Sarun, to expanding business conglomerates headed by prominent tycoons, like Cheung Sopheap and Lav Meng Khin of the Pheapimex-Fu Chan company, Kung Triv of the KT Pacific Group, Mong Reuthy of the conglomerate named after him, Keut Meng of the Royal Group, LyYong Phat of the Hero King company and Sok Kong of the Sokimex company.2 This decisive melding of bureaucratic, military and economic power is rooted in a sea change of socioeconomic transformation driven by this self-regenerating, oligopolistic and predatory entrepreneurial elite,3 intimately linked with East and Southeast Asian capital. Their revolution is generating unprecedented growth and wealth in a few sectors, while leaving most Cambodians in dire and in some ways deepening poverty,4 creating unheard of socioeconomic polarization. The losers include perhaps a million landless people, many thrown off their land and out of their forests by the start-up of enormous agro-industrial plantations and rampant land grabbing by the elite.5 The upheaval has also produced a mostly female proletariat, comprising 265,000 largely unionized employees in garment and other factories6 and 100,000 sex workers.7 Runaway urbanization is changing parts of Phnom Penh beyond recognition, amidst the rise of a new generation of semieducated , under-employed youth, numbering in the tens of thousands.8 The capital and other towns are also home to the beginnings of a middle class, some with liberal aspirations and connected to the plethora of international financial institutions, foreign embassies and aid auxiliaries, UN agencies and international NGOs that, together, continue to play an indispensable role in financing both the formal state apparatus and a rambunctious domestic civil society and media.9Alongside them are the business offices of East and Southeast Asian companies whose activities are creating more conservative strata within the still small middle class. In this environment, the old Vietnamese-built state is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 111-130
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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