- Cambodia in 2018:A Year of Setbacks and Successes
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 104]
Cambodia in 2018 was marked by a number of major setbacks in some areas and successes in others. On the political front, the senate and parliamentary elections resulted in the Cambodian People's Party's monopolization of power within the bicameral legislature. Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to tighten his grip on power by taking steps to control state institutions, most notably the armed forces, the judiciary, and the party system. Human rights in the country continued to face an uphill battle, although the CPP government took a few small positive steps towards the end of the year by reversing its tight restrictions on the opposition and political rights. All these negative developments occurred despite positive signs of socio-economic development and international pressure from some major countries on which Cambodia has long depended for economic growth. Developed countries like the United States and those in Europe threatened to impose sanctions on Cambodia because of the election results, but the Hun Sen government did little to address their concerns about the political and human rights situation.
The State and Political Society
The multiparty system that was introduced in Cambodia in 1993 through the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and the intervention of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia is now dictated by the CPP, which allows weak and fragile opposition parties to exist without any prospects of them gaining enough seats to form a new government. [End Page 105]
The year 2018 was noteworthy in the sense that two major elections for the bicameral legislature — the Senate and the National Assembly — led to the CPP's total dominance, and further marked a move away from a hegemonic-party system to the beginning of a one-party state.1 The election for the Senate was held on 25 February, after having been postponed from 14 January 2018, and the results left the CPP with all 58 elected seats, taking 12 seats away from the opposition. The CPP also captured all 125 seats in the National Assembly, having collected 4,889,113 votes, leaving the other nineteen political parties without a single seat. Banned in November 2017 by the Supreme Court from competing in the two elections, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which won 55 out of 123 seats in the 2013 elections, was not even among the nineteen parties that competed with the CPP. Also worth noting is the fact that the once-popular royalist party FUNCINPEC, which won the 1993 national election but was forced to form a coalition government with the CPP, once again did not capture even a single seat. FUNCINPEC's political decline began irreversibly when its leader, Prince and First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, was pushed out of power in 1997 after a violent confrontation with the then Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. The royalist party has since been unable to make a comeback.
The CPP's electoral victories since 1998 have come as no real surprise to long-time observers of Cambodian politics. The ruling elite have taken action through control, coercion and co-option to make sure that no opposition parties would be in a position to repeat what took place in the 2013 national election. One of the steps Hun Sen took to tighten his grip on power was through control of the armed forces. In May 2018, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Cambodia's Dirty Dozen: A Long History of Rights Abuses by Hun Sen's Generals, identifying the twelve senior generals and many others in the army, gendarmerie and police on whom Hun Sen has relied to maintain power. The CPP has incorporated military, security and government officials into its Central Committee. According to the report, "If the security forces are not professionalized and key abusers are not appropriately held to account, there is little possibility of democratic reform — or indeed any kind of structural reform — in Cambodia."2
While the assessment of Human Rights Watch is compelling, it is worth adding that Hun Sen's rule is far from secure and he is unlikely to...