Cambodia’s Long March Toward Democracy

Posted by: | Posted on: July 26, 2014

Op-Ed: The Foreign Policy 

Cambodia has just taken a crucial step toward more participatory politics. But further progress toward democracy is likely to be slow and evolutionary rather than sudden and dramatic.

Since 1993, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen has dominated Cambodian politics in semi-authoritarian fashion. The CPP held regular elections, but the opposition never had a chance of winning due to widespread fraud, intimidation, and lack of capital. In 2013, however, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) shattered this paradigm. The new opposition coalition came within a whisker of beating the CPP on a platform saying that they’d had “enough” and promising “change,” which appealed to a youthful, tech-savvy, and urban-centric demographic excluded from the spoils of political power, tired of rampant corruption and the oligarchic management of the economy, and unhappy at the prospect of dynastic succession among nouveau-rich families and clans.

Though the change and fallout of the Arab Spring reverberated globally, Cambodia’s “almost democratic breakthrough” in 2013 and this week’s deal are best understood as part of a slow evolution rather than a “revolutionary” change or upheaval as in the Middle East. The CNRP’s near victory was possible because of elite miscalculation and infighting within the CPP, the opposition’s newfound organization, and tacit support from Cambodia’s neighbors. (Both Vietnam and China are equally weary of Hun Sen’s reign.)

Hun Sen has long recognized that the CPP, which initially came to power on the coattails of the Vietnamese in 1979, needs legitimacy from the ballot box to cement its claim to rule. Periodic elections, however flawed, offered a fig leaf for continued authoritarian rule, allowing Cambodia’s leaders to assert their superiority to Vietnam and China. They also set the stage for the genuinely contested parliamentary election last year.

Dissent within the party has been simmering for years. Over time, Hun Sen has become an institution that eclipses all others, including the CPP, the military, and the police.

The party and its leader habitually renew their vows, but for at least the past five years Hun Sen has ruled by fiat, ignoring the CPP’s Standing and Central Committees, and in no small way contributing to the CPP’s malaise.

The party and its leader habitually renew their vows, but for at least the past five years Hun Sen has ruled by fiat, ignoring the CPP’s Standing and Central Committees, and in no small way contributing to the CPP’s malaise. In fact, Hun Sen has been running the country through his public speeches much like Cambodia’s ex-King Sihanouk did in the 1950s and 1960s. The discord came to a head in the wake of the 2012 local elections, when — despite another landslide victory for the ruling party — the opposition made clear inroads in the CPP heartland provinces of Prey Veng and Kampong Cham. The loss of influence clearly reflected party dissent. According to the Economist, of the 5.7 million CPP members, roughly half failed to vote for the CPP. At an internal party meeting in August 2012, just 11 months before the 2013 elections, Hun Sen berated individuals by name for sloth, corruption, and ostentatious displays of wealth, and ordered CPP parliamentarians to spend their weekends in the provinces with their constituencies.

After their surprising gains in 2012, the Cambodian opposition approached the 2013 elections with gusto, knocking on provincial doors well in advance of the campaign period. Two of the parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, joined together to form the CNRP and developed a national platform to increase monthly salaries and the minimum wage and improve access to health care.

After winning 55 of 123 parliamentary seats in 2013, the CNRP cried foul, citing widespread vote tampering to buttress its claim that it deserved a much greater share of the seats than awarded to it. Opposition leaders then decided to boycott parliament unless the government granted concessions. Under this week’s compromise, the CNRP will take its seats in return for reform of the National Election Commission and an enhanced role in the National Assembly, including the chairmanship of several legislative committees. The opposition also won a marginal concession from Hun Sen to bring forward the next national elections by five months to February 2018, in which they hope to fare even better. Finally, the prime minister allowed the release on bail of eight opposition leaders who are currently in jail on charges of abetting insurrection; they will acquire parliamentary immunity upon taking their seats. (The photo above shows parliamentarian-elect Ho Vann greeting supporters after his release from prison on July 22.)

Though both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy are lauding the compromise that ends nearly a year of political deadlock, critics see it a temporary fix, kicking the can down the road for future institutional reforms.

Though both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy are lauding the compromise that ends nearly a year of political deadlock, critics see it as a temporary fix, kicking the can down the road for future institutional reforms.

But those critics may be missing one crucial facet of the bargain: It emerges at a moment when the country’s main partners, China and Vietnam, are equally frustrated with the CPP. In 2005, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai publicly denounced corruption in Cambodia, and in 2007 a Vietnamese delegation delivered blunt messages to the CPP. Vietnam might not be a democracy, they argued, but it does allow for change within the leadership; Cambodia should follow its lead. Similarly, they said, Vietnam debated policy in its national assembly; so should the Cambodians.

China, meanwhile, has quietly given the Cambodian leadership similar messages, pointing out to CPP chiefs that the Chinese Communist Party has now set a retirement age of 68 for top leaders, and 65 for senior officials. At 61, Hun Sen still has another seven years left — but there many old-guard CPP members who are long past their due date. The problem for the CPP is that internal differences of opinion have made it virtually impossible to agree on deadlines for retirement and generational renewal of the party’s senior leadership bodies, the Standing Committee and the Central Committee. The CPP is struggling to reinvent itself — and, in the meantime, it is giving the opposition a clear opening.

If China and Vietnam think that the CPP is giving one-party states a bad name, they are also hesitant to accept Cambodia’s evolution into a genuine multiparty democracy. China, however, might be willing to tolerate greater freedoms in Cambodia if the opposition backs China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea over Vietnam’s.

The combination of CPP inertia, newfound energy within the opposition, and a division between Cambodia’s traditional hegemons might yet produce a genuine multiparty democracy. Such an outcome is most likely only as the result of many more years of patient political development, but the Hun Sen-Sam Rainsy deal has now created a crucial precondition for this evolution by putting the opposition firmly in the game. And this is undoubtedly where the Cambodian population wants it to be.

Omar Havana/Getty Images

Political deadlock is broken on mere realistic implementation

Posted by: | Posted on: July 23, 2014


deadlock break in cambodiaAs Hun Sen walked out from the Senate Building, he spontaneously told the waiting reporters that “victory, let together help applaud”. Cambodian people and supporters have posited doubt on what “victory” he mean? The agreement both parties signed seem show clear road-map bringing into implementation, but sympathizers see this as “output” not the “outcome” at all. On the other hand, some articles on the agreement are still vague and need more time to realistically articulate them. The victory might be plausible for Hun Sen as he will lead this government legitimately for another 5 years while Sam Rainsy is feeling relaxed as his 7 MPs-elect and one activist can walk out the prison as a bail from their unjust pre-trial detention. The two phenomenon is very dichotomous.

The doubtful theme of the agreement to breakthrough the deadlock:

Beside of clear numbers, roles and responsibility for power sharing within the parliament, the important agendas on National Election Committee (NEC) in-dept reform and the rescheduling of early election date caused by recent protests of election flaws, both are not yet written. The agreement just said they will anticipate with the task force of both parties to work on it. According to the publicized agreement (in Khmer and translated into English by KEEN Languages Interpreter), the current NEC that CNRP has fought vehemently, is still having full authority to conduct their tasks, and the agreed statement on 4 members of the NEC selected by the CNRP must go through this current NEC’s mission as usual before the new NEC body is created. The 9 members of the NEC or the formula of 4+4+1 will be deliberately applying to all levels such as provincial and district NEC, or just the top NINE? For the new date of early election is not mentioned exactly within the agreement as it will depend on the task force from both sides.

For the power sharing within the parliament, CNRP is expecting to build rule of law from within the parliament on their insisting demand of “check and balance” governance by having separate power between Legislative and Executive. Hence, the agreement doesn’t say anything about Judiciary. Further more, there are loopholes on those 10 committees especially the possible inefficient work interaction. For instance, the “investigation, cleaning-up and anti-corruption” is led by CNRP including many other committees but not the “Finance”, or “Interior”, or “Public Services” etc. that will posit difficulty for CNRP to operate their task smoothly. The most challenging thing for CNRP is probably the limit of human resources.

The CNRP Leadership:

The agreement is lacking to mention the proper party name as “The Cambodia National Rescue Party” by writing only “National Rescue Party” which is a sign I would like to link to that CNRP cannot isolate itself from their people (supporters). Thus, the leaders of all levels must work hard to explain the reasons to join the parliament this time to the people (their supporters) before those supporters are confused by others. Sam Rainsy who is the president of the party is seen likely unhappy from this deal. His first word to the public is we have no option, national reconciliation and compromise is the most important thing. His speech posited many invisible meaning for all of us.

He might foresee the long run consequences after CNRP joint the parliament. He has hugely gained experiences in Cambodian politics especially in handling with his everlasting rival, Hun Sen.

During this recent decades, I can say Sam Rainsy is a great Khmer leader who is projecting his new vital leadership to pave a new strong social fabric of Cambodia. Observers have simultaneously said that Cambodian social fabric has been so fragile. Violence, corruption and abusing of power etc. are easily happened by this post-Khmer Rouge  society pattern. Visionary and long-sighted leader is a leader who comprehend this fragility and he is pragmatically staying in focus to bring about candid social fabric for Cambodian people.

As the challenges, Cambodian social fabric is not only referring to the whole nation, but the biggest fractions such as CNRP party and CPP party. For Sam Rainsy, CNRP has many thing falling behind especially good flows of bureaucratic leadership and capable merit-based candidates appointment. While the party is emerged as the role model for Cambodian people especially the new aspiration of younger generation, the party-based candidates and staffs selection is seen not different from the CPP’s. By unparalleled on finance base and armed forces, the CNRP must ensure that the party can recruit the best candidates as their agents and can maintain the increasing people popularity.

By Sophoan Seng

Translation of Negotiation Agreement between CNRP and CPP

Posted by: | Posted on: July 22, 2014



Political resolution between Cambodian People’s Party and Cambodia National Rescue Party


Translation of Agreement between CPP and CNRP-page-001-          By seeing the peaceful resolution through negotiation which is only best way to breakthrough the ongoing political problem after parliamentary election on the fifth mandate of the assembly on July 28th, 2013.

-          Respecting the wills of Cambodian people and for the greatest interest of the nation.

Top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party and National Rescue Party met to discuss on July 22nd, 2014 at the Senate Building and agreed on the political resolution as outlined following:

Article 1:


Translation of Agreement between CPP and CNRP-page-002     Both parties agree on political resolution by working together within the assembly to solve all national problems in accordance with democratic principles and the rule of law.

Article 2:

According to the joint statement of the supreme meeting between Cambodian People’s Party and National Rescue Party on September 16th, 2013, both parties agreed to reform the election by creating the election institution as the full independent institution stipulated by the additional chapter of the constitution and committee of this institution must be selected by law-makers through utmost major votes of the total members of the assembly.

Translation of Agreement between CPP and CNRP-page-003The national election committee comprises of 9 members in which 4 members are selected by government-led party, 4 members are selected by assembly-seated party and 1 member is selected by agreement between assembly-seated parties. Assembly’s permanent committees must proceed with open and transparent selection submitted by national election committee to the assembly to vote in confidence. In case, there is no creation of national election committee, national election committee that has already been established continues its task and have authority to manage the election according to the law. National election committee has autonomous operational budget for their task.

Both parties agree to allow the existing joint committee


Siv-channa13-1continues to discuss on agenda of election reform in the future in accordance to the joint statement of task force committee of Cambodian People’s Party and task force committee of National Rescue Party on February 18th, 2014 in which it also includes the new voters registration procedure.

Article 3:

Both parties agree to reschedule the election date for the future election.


deadlock break in cambodiaArticle 4:

Both parties agree to separate the power between executive branch and legislative branch. Both parties agree to study aiming to amend the internal regulations of the assembly so that this institution can fulfill its task correctly and effectively, among those are lifting up the roles and power of the assembly-seated party that rejects to join with the government in accordance to the constitution, laws and factual legal interactions. Both parties agree to manage assembly important chairmanship by arranging roles and duties of the permanent committees of the assembly through the formula of 7

deadlock broken and releasewith 6 by creating additional expertise committee by having the chair of the assembly from CPP, first vice chair from CNRP and second vice chair from CPP. New creating committee is the tenth committee named “investigation, cleaning-up and anti-corruption” by separating from the fourth committee and change the name of fourth committee to “interior, national defense and public services committee”. Committees that CPP holds chairmanship and secretary are the second committee, the fourth committee, the fifth committee, the sixth committee, and the ninth committee. Committees that CNRP holds chairmanship and secretary are the first committee, the third committee, the seventh committee, the eighth committee, and the tenth committee. Each committee


Mu Sochuacomprises of 9 members. Any committee in which a part leads as a chair that party reserves 5 members and another party reserves 4 members.

Article 5:

Both parties agree to re-arrange the chairmanship of the senate.

Article 6:

Both parties agree to conduct reform and strengthen the important national institutions especially all independent institutions enabling to serve the nation and citizens in accordance to democracy of pluralism and the rule of law.

Article 7:

Both parties agree to study aiming to amend the ancillary regulations guaranteeing the implementation of the agreement.


CPP’s Representation                                         CNRP’s Representation



(Signed)                                                                                 (Signed)

Samdech Aggha Mahasenapady Techo Hun Sen      H.E.Sam Rainsy



(signed)                (signed)              (signed)                     (signed)

H.E.Say Chhum    H.E.Sar Kheng     H.E.Kem Sokha    H.E.Pol Ham

Translation of Negotiation Agreement between CNRP and CPP

CNRP and CPP on their way of negotiation

Posted by: | Posted on: July 21, 2014

Prisoner of ConscienceRight now, Cambodian people are eagerly waiting to hear the result of negotiation between CNRP and CPP to end the one year long political stagnation. This resuming talk happened during the political tension as authority and court of Cambodia arrested and detained 7 MPs-elect of CNRP and a youth activist on felony charges such as violence incitement and insurrection. The charges have been seen politically motivated. The Cambodian people and the world diplomats are roaring to this unacceptable pre-trial detention. Those 8 detainees are named as “the prisoner of conscience”. Until now, Cambodia has received the title of “prisoner of conscience” not less than 37 people. This entitle is named and recognized by civil society and world community movements for justice and democracy. So we couldn’t fathom how bad justice system in Cambodia. This system has been well-known for its biases and subservient to the power of incumbent politicians.

Amid arresting and detaining of the CNRP’s important officials, it is Siv-channa13-1surely a pressure for this party to accept some conditions assigned by the CPP. First of all, the negotiation is a package talk which means authority must release those detainees without condition, and the agenda to breakthrough the political deadlock was already outlined during the phone talk (which was recorded) between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen on April 9, 2014. So two parties seems have realistic road-map for their ongoing negotiation today. We pray for the success which means “good faith negotiation can happen only until both sides put the national interests first”. National interests right now are very important such as in-dept reform of NEC, neutral mass media, and early election conducting. These mentioned flaws are caused by the last year vast election irregularities and these irregularities have inherited since post UNs-sponsored election in 1993.

Negotiation 1

Led by: Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, Pol Ham with members: Son Chhay, Yim Sovann, Yem Ponnharith, Kouy Bunroeun, Eng Chai Eang

Negitiation 2

Led by: Hun Sen, Say Chhum, Sar Kheng with members: Prak Sokhon, Prum Sokha, Som Sern, Sok Settha, Kert Rith

Political Analysis on Cambodia Political Culture of Violence: Revolutionists VS Pragmatists

Posted by: | Posted on: July 19, 2014

Dear Friends of Democrats and Justice Lovers;

I am interested to read more books on “violence” in Cambodia. Since, I was born I can say violence is everywhere and it is man made. The trauma of Cambodian people caused by violence is very tremendous. The victim of the violence is the weak, not the strong. In contrast, the strong gain benefit from violence embroilment as this projected violence is systematic.

Sometime, violence has been shaped itself from time to time. For instance, the Khmer Rouge leaders were great in using violence to control others and enhance their power. But their extremism ended their career faster than expect. The same Khmer Rouge comrades have likely maintained their power base but changed the images of violence, at least academics see this as changing from “direct” to “indirect” violence embroilment. With this synthesis, well-known authors on Cambodia such as David Chandler, Penny Edwards, Gafar Peang-meth, Sorpong Peou, John Tully, and Sebestian Strango have simultaneously theorized Cambodia politics as lineage political culture of violence built by violence leadership.

While the UNTAC-sponsored election in 1993 was not violence free, the post-established government was violently divorced from each other through a deadly coup detat. Subsequently, many protesters were injured, amputated and killed by the grenade attack and security guards deployed by the government; and many movie stars and journalists are day-light shooting including extrajudicial killing. Those perpetrators have never been brought to justice. Sebestian observed that the repression on opposition party through violence orchestration and court-ordered charges have been traditionally trumped-up by the CPP under Hun Sen leadership.

Now, look at the two groups within Cambodian’s People Party (CPP) such as the revolutionists leadership and pragmatists leadership: the revolutionists groups have always taken over the agenda and their tools are guns, batons and judiciary manipulation visibly.

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