How Hun Sen killed democracy in Cambodia

Until November 2017, Cambodia’s democracy was enfeebled but still alive. There was, of course, a police state, a compliant judiciary and a biased electoral system, but there was a strong opposition with local and national organization, which, for the first time, was united under a single banner: the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). This united, democratic party was the only opposition represented in the national assembly with 55 seats out of 123, or 44%

Faced with the remarkable and unexpected success of the CNRP in the legislative and communal elections in July 2013 and June 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985, was scared. The democratic opposition had never achieved such scores: 44% in both the national and local elections. This was achieved despite the sustained use of threats and intimidation, as well as vote-buying and massive electoral fraud.

Hun Sen knew that the opposition represented a historic tide of change which he was powerless to resist. So he decided to simply dissolve the CNRP. At that point, democracy in Cambodia can be considered as dead. There can be no democracy without opposition, without a system of checks and balances. In the absence of any opposition worthy of the name, it was no surprise that the ruling party led by Hun Sen, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), won 100% of the seats in the last legislative elections of July 2018. It was a hollow victory.

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