The West’s impact on the future of Cambodia’s democracy

As one of the youngest democratic and developing countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s democratic transition has been impeded by weak political institutions and a lack of a genuine opposition party. The dissolution of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the oppression of its former members including former CNRP president Kem Sokha indicate a worrying direction for Cambodia’s democracy.

The founding of the CNRP in 2012 — through a merger between former opposition parties the Sam Rainsy Party and Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party — marked a new period for Cambodia’s democratic transition.

It led to a more even balance of power in Cambodia’s domestic politics. Prior to its dissolution in 2018, the CNRP was popular and secured nearly half the total votes in Cambodia’s 2013 election. The CNRP was the only viable opposition party and secured 55 seats out of 125. The incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) held 68 seats, losing 22 to the CNRP. In the communal elections in 2017, the CNRP won 489 of 1646 commune chief positions despite facing repression and harassment.

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