Cambodia’s democracy deficit: Australia’s role and responsibility

Have we done enough to support human and democratic rights in a country where they are perpetually under attack?

Cambodia’s Hun Sen, the world’s longest serving prime minister, will today hand over that role to his son, Hun Manet, having crushed all opposition during his 38 years in power. Australia played a leading role three decades ago in ending Cambodia’s civil war, assisting the birth of a new Cambodian constitution, which promised pluralism and liberal democracy, and supervising the successful conduct of UN-held elections in 1993.

But we, along with the rest of the international community, have done less than we should have to arrest the country’s authoritarian slide. The change of guard is an occasion to rethink how we might do better.

The rot began immediately after the 1993 election, when Hun Sen’s party unexpectedly ran a close second to Prince Sihanouk’s royalist party, but refused to accept its defeat. All the key external players – Australia included – yielded, too meekly in retrospect, to Hun Sen’s demand to be appointed “Second Prime Minister”.

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