« Democracy Bites the Dust in Cambodia but Glimmers of Hope Remain » by Sophal Ear, 01/08/2018, TheNewsLens
As the red dust settles on Cambodia’s soil following the hubbub of last weekend’s election, questions hang in the air over what just really happened.
The short answer is that Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia as the world’s longest serving prime minister since 1985, is basking in the prospect of another five years in power.
The official results suggest that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 seats in parliament, with 77.5 percent of the vote on the back of turnout of 80.5 percent.
This result, which had been on the cards since the forced dissolution and subsequent exile of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last November, represents nothing less than the death of the democracy in Cambodia.
« Survive and Thrive: Field Research in Authoritarian Southeast Asia » by Lee Morgenbesser and Meredith L. Weiss in Asian Studies Review
The literature on field research methods has focused almost exclusively on the strategies available to scholars working in democracies. By comparison, there has been scant guidance for those working in authoritarian regimes. This is despite the distinct set of challenges that arise where civil liberties and political rights are not consistently or well protected. The purpose of this article is to address this deficit. Drawing on the region of Southeast Asia as a natural laboratory for comparative analysis, it offers guidance on how to successfully conduct archival research, carry out interviews and undertake participant observation under authoritarianism. The resulting conclusions are applicable to the pursuit of primary research by scholars at all career levels and in other regions of the world.
« What has gone wrong in Cambodia ? » by Milton Osbourne, 19/07/2018, The Interpreter (Lowy Institute)
Concerns ahead of Cambodia’s elections on 29 July centre on the judgement that under Prime Minister Hun Sen the country has become increasingly authoritarian in political character while the government – through a range of parliamentary and judicial actions, and backed by absolute control of the forces of order – has eliminated any viable political opposition to ensure its electoral return.
How did we arrive at this state of affairs in which there is now very little external actors can, or will, do to prevent Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party staying in office? Even if an unlikely election result occurs, with Hun Sen’s government voted out, it seems certain he would use all means, including force if necessary, to remain in power.
A brief review of Cambodia’s political history since the UN-supervised elections of 1993 is needed to understand the present situation.
The “original sin” that led to this set of circumstances occurred when the international community stepped back from involvement in Cambodia’s affairs and allowed the CPP to remain the dominant political force in the country, despite having lost the popular vote in the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)–supervised elections in 1993. With Hun Sen and the CPP refusing to accept defeat, the compromise arrangements that were cobbled together left all real power in their hands.
As David Chandler notes of the political opposition at the time in his A History of Cambodia, “The royalist party soon lost its voice in decision making as well as its freedom of manoeuvre.”
Tired of the problems in Cambodia that had been exercising Western governments for more than a decade, no external players intervened to change the course of events. Similarly, there was never any sign at that stage that Moscow and Beijing had any interest in becoming directly involved in opposing the CPP’s actions.
The complex political history of the period from 1993 to 1997 is well documented in David W. Roberts’ Political Transition in Cambodia: Power, Elitism and Democracy. A disclosure: I reviewed this book for Pacific Affairs in 2001 and commented that it could be read as a justification for Hun Sen’s political behaviour. But I found persuasive, then and now, his endorsement of a view offered by long-term observer of Cambodia Steve Heder that the key players of the period – Sihanouk, Sam Rainsy, and Ranariddh – were all characterised by “deeply illiberal, anti-democratic and anti-pluralist tendencies”.
This lack of action in 1993 was followed by the unwillingness of external players to take any measures that mattered after Hun Sen’s brutal coup de force in July 1997 that saw the CPP overwhelm Prince Ranariddh’s FUNCINPEC.