When Cambodia’s main opposition party was forcibly dissolved in 2017, the words “death of democracy” splashed across the front page of the Phnom Penh Post. At the time it seemed appropriate. The pre-election disbandment of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gave the ruling party all 125 seats in the National Assembly and transformed Cambodia into a de facto one-party state.
But on the anniversary of the July 1997 violent clashes – usually referred to as a coup – one must ask if democracy was ever alive in Cambodia to begin with.
For Lee Morgenbesser, a regional expert on authoritarianism, democracy never took hold in Cambodia despite the United Nation’s lackluster attempt to implant it.