Cambodia - Politics
Rights groups have accused Hun Sen — the longest serving leader of any Southeast Asian country — of suppressing dissent and intimidating political opponents. Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades since being installed by the Vietnamese in January 1985, has not had a real political rival. Cabinet members talk steadily about presumed democratic reforms, while ignoring a quasi-coup in 1993 and a real one in 1997. They readily admit to corruption in ministries and courts during discussions with donors, but never admit personal involvement, and dwell on petty abuses, never on grand scale corruption or on vast personal fortunes that are being built.
Prime minister Hun Sen, a former army commander who defected from the Khmer Rouge, held power alongside a small but powerful group of political allies who have become enormously wealthy. Hun Sen's family amassed a multimillion-dollar business empire spanning the country's most lucrative sectors during his rule.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, his family, and close associates control vast amounts of the country’s wealth. The London-based nongovernmental agency Global Witness in its 2016 report “Hostile Takeover” detailed how Hun Sen’s family dominates the most important businesses in Cambodia where they can operate outside the law thanks to the protection of Asia’s longest-serving premier, his relatives, and associates who hold top military and government posts.
Opposition leaders and outside observers, including the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, have criticized the Cambodian judicial system’s lack of independence. Rarely do politicians of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) face charges, but the list of opposition lawmakers dragged before the courts was long and includes Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, as well as other opposition lawmakers like Um Sam An and Meach Sovannara, the CNRP's media director.
Politicians skillful at resisting and diverting the international development community are just as capable of controlling a largely rural population through demagoguery, false promises and intimidation. The raw power of the state, complemented by fear and the distribution of small gifts and favors at critical junctures, continue to provide a veneer of political legitimacy.
The Royal Cambodian Government [RGC] has participated in preparing innumerable plans which reflect state-of-the-art thinking in the international donor community, and are rich in rhetoric on such themes as good governance, transparency, accountability and participation. In most cases, reform plans are little more than a studied attempt to tell international donors what they want to hear. Even cursory examination of the reality behind the rhetoric reveals neither substance nor political will. The RGC continues to use a broad array of tactics to divert reform-minded donors. Despite the fact that donors account for half of the annual budget of the RGC, most reform efforts have had limited impact on a persistent, less-than-scrupulous opponent. The RGC readily agrees to accept donor projects, particularly when they include such benefits as study trips and perhaps funds that can be diverted. But some projects stretch out over a remarkably long time without observable results.
As of 2012 the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had 90 seats in parliament. The Sam Rainsy Party had slowly grown its influence and by 2012 held 26 of 123 National Assembly seats. The Human Rights Party has three seats. Sam Rainsy, the main opposition leader, was in exile and faced more than 10 years of imprisonment over charges related to the destruction of markers near the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province. It was said that Sam Rainsy had incited people against the Vietnamese “the cheap way” and would not be able to compete with the ruling party and Hun Sen without more struggle.
On October 23, 1991, the Paris Conference reconvened to sign a comprehensive settlement giving the UN full authority to supervise a cease-fire, repatriate the displaced Khmer along the border with Thailand, disarm and demobilize the factional armies, and prepare the country for free and fair elections. Prince Sihanouk, President of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia (SNC), and other members of the SNC returned to Phnom Penh in November 1991, to begin the resettlement process in Cambodia. The UN Advance Mission for Cambodia (UNAMIC) was deployed at the same time to maintain liaison among the factions and begin demining operations to expedite the repatriation of approximately 370,000 Cambodians from Thailand.
On March 16, 1992, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) arrived in Cambodia to begin implementation of the UN Settlement Plan. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees began full scale repatriation in March 1992. UNTAC grew into a 22,000-strong civilian and military peacekeeping force to conduct free and fair elections for a constituent assembly.
Historically, voter participation in Cambodia has been falling in the national election, when 90 percent of the 4.7 million registered voters turned out in 1998. By 2013, the last national election, 68 percent of the about 9.7 million registered voters turned out. The NEC cleaned up voter rolls between the two elections to eliminate duplicate registrations and other errors.
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