This article is part of a series that will be released before the end of 2015, drawing from The Contour‘s annual print issue titled Upheaval, Revolution & Tragedy: The World of 2015 which can be found online at The Contour: Print Edition
Cambodia has been effectively under a single party ruler CPP (Cambodia People’s Party) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen who, previously a Khmer Rouge commander, marked his 30th year in power in January 2015. He famously declared following Cambodian elections of 2013 that only “death or incapacitation to the point of being unable to work” would dismount him from his position of power. In recent years an opposing party has risen, led by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, called CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party). They hope to foment change in Cambodia by winning local and national elections in 2017 and 2018.
The CNRP first made significant gains during the Cambodian election of 2013, showing its popularity with the public. Despite widespread irregularities and fraud, allegedly organized by the governing CPP, CNRP won 55 out of 123 electoral seats while CPP won 68. Although CPP maintained a majority in Parliament and Prime Minister Hun Sen was re-elected, the CPP’s grasp of government was effectively weakened. To protest the official results of the 2013 election, CNRP boycotted Parliament, but were forced to end the boycott in 2014 in an agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodia has slowly recovered from the four year Khmer Rouge reign that lasted from 1975-1979 and killed an estimated number of 2 million people from disease, starvation, exhaustion, and mass executions. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, Cambodians were relocated from cities into forced labor in rural areas to create what Pol Pot imagined would be an “agrarian utopia”. Cambodia was cut off from the rest of the world and underwent drastic economical setbacks while money, private property, and education were abolished. The Khmer Rouge was eventually overthrown by Vietnamese troops and Hun Sen seized control of the government.
Since then, Hun Sen has kept himself in power by quelling protests in a violent display by his army and steering the results of each election. Will Cambodia escape the rule of the CPP in 2017 and 2018? It is too far away to predict, but the CNRP remains hopeful. “Despite a number of recent events, including changes of the political situation, our position and goals remain the same,” said Sam Rainsy. “Our motivation and our commitment are the same. We want to have change through a peaceful election.”
by Sara Dasgupta ’19