Cambodia and Laos in the regional mix

As geopolitical tensions from Russian aggression in Ukraine and the ongoing United States-China rivalry intensify, Southeast Asia will be hard-pressed to maintain peace and security. Despite their relatively small size, Cambodia and Laos are two countries whose political trajectories will shape regional outcomes. While Cambodia has consolidated domestic political power with dynamic economic expansion, Laos is looking like a regional laggard facing a deep debt crisis. As Cambodia moves forward, Laos is at risk of being left behind.

The political narrative of Cambodia is fundamentally about how Prime Minister Hun Sen has got away with electoral dictatorship. Over the past five years, Cambodian politics has moved from Hun Sen’s systematic decimation of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and consolidation of political power under the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to the cultivation of dynastic rule with a looming leadership succession passing on to his eldest son, Lt Gen Hun Manet, the country’s army commander.

It should be noted that the CNRP was also divided from within due to the split between co-leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. The former faced legal persecution and went into exile, while the latter was put on trial for treason until his deteriorating health and will gave in. The weakness of Cambodia’s main opposition party together with Hun Sen’s coercion facilitated the CPP’s power consolidation without any significant opponent for the foreseeable future.

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