Cambodia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Boondoggle

The tycoon-funded vaccine drive demonstrates the durability of the patronage state that Hun Sen has built since the 1980s. They also reveal its weaknesses.

In a recent article, my colleague Sebastian Strangio observed how Cambodia’s ruling party is collecting tens of millions of dollars in donations from tycoons and the business elite to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. As he notes, this reflects the workings of the “neo-patrimonial state” that the party has created since 1979. Indeed, the way Prime Minister Hun Sen wants ordinary Cambodians to see it, Cambodia has a “philanthropic party” not a “welfare state”; that if one takes away the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the state collapses. The CPP is well-used to playing this game, with numerous schools and hospitals across the country named after the PM and his cronies, supposedly paid for by the party, when in fact many were paid for by aid from foreign governments.

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