Is Cambodia a Democracy or a one party state?

Is Cambodia a democracy? 50 years after the Khmer Rouge murdered 2 million Cambodians, the Supreme Court ruled to disband the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Thereby it removed opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. It may call itself democratic, but it is in reality a dictatorship.

The Supreme Court decision makes me wonder if I will ever see the magnificent monuments to the ancient civilisation of Angkor again. It begs the question – Is Cambodia a Democracy? It is sad, but looks unlikely.

Visiting Angkor

Angkor Wat just before dawn as seen across the moat

My first and maybe my last visit to Angkor was in 2017. But I will always remember the impression Angkor Wat made on me that morning before sunrise. And how I was moved to write this poem by a young girl who danced for me, uninvited, hoping to relieve me of a few dollars so she could help feed her family for one more day.

Out of the morning mist the great wat rose,

And from the East, looked out on everyone.

Reflected in the lake, its calm repose.

Secrets learned from ancients long since gone.

She beckoned me to enter,

As the night turned into day.

Through the gateway to the centre,

Lay jewels of yesterday.

I stood in awe, then turned to see

A young girl’s laughing eyes.

The future cradled in her hands,

Unknowing of those ancients wise.

She cast her eyes at waning stars,

As day was born from fading night.

Then wiped the moisture from her face,

And came to me at dawn’s first light.

She danced as a courtier, not like a young a girl.

And her smile was so real, there was no mistake.

As she swayed with the breeze,

She spoke words that weren’t faked.

Where have you been?

What did you see?

I want dollars.

Please look at me.

Angkor Wat
The girl who danced for me

So, is Cambodia a Democracy?

On the face of it, is Cambodia a democracy seems like a strange question, when one man has clung on to power for so long.

Under the control of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia [UNTAC] which was installed by Vietnam during the early 1990s, Cambodia should have seen democracy. But the government included Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge member, who became prime minister.

UNTAC was supposed to take Cambodia into an era of democracy, but it failed. The country became a one party state and looks likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Hun Sen is only 63, but Cambodia’s Prime Minister is already one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. Since 1985, this former Khmer Rouge soldier — who defected and joined a Vietnamese-backed liberation force in the late 1970s — has clung to the top of his country’s politics, by hook or by crook.

Time 2016

Cambodia’s poverty

Cambodia is a small country in South-East Asia, bordering Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia’s poverty level makes it one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of 17 million. Its per capita income is only US$260.

Approximately 36 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. Because of the years of civil war and strife, more than 25 percent of households in Phnom Penh are headed by a single mother.

Nations Encyclopedia

What is the Cambodia debt to China?

In 2021 Cambodia owed more than $9 billion and the Cambodia debt to China was approximately 45% – $40 billion. They owed the balance to other countries.

Cambodia has never recovered economically or politically from the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s, and its dependance on China since it cut ties with the USA could prove to be disastrous.

If there is one history lesson that Cambodian foreign policy makers should keep in mind, it is that overdependence on a foreign patron, namely China, is counterproductive for a small and weak state like theirs. Although the current marriage of convenience with the PRC yields economic benefits today, this trend could potentially drag Cambodia into Beijing’s geopolitical tutelage and, as a result, threaten its national security interest in the long run, if not properly strategized.

The Diplomat

Three days in Cambodia is not enough

I did Angkor archaeological park in three days. But I could not do justice to the ancient capital of the once great Khmer Empire in three months, let alone three days. If, like me, you only have three days, then three days it must be. Don’t let it stop you from going to Cambodia.

Is Cambodia a democracy?
French architectural influence in Siem Reap
Cambodia - Preah Khan
Entrance to Preah Khan temple
Preah Khan
Inside Preah Khan

Cambodia’s Wonder of the world

Wonders of the World have captured man’s imagination for centuries, so I knew I’d find Angkor Wat on a list somewhere. Sure enough, I did. The ultimate ten man-made wonders of the World compiled by The Learning Channel – wonders that still exist from all times and places. It is not so much Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple that stands proudly before you enter the City, Angkor Thom, but Angkor itself.

The Capital of the ancient Khmer Empire in South East Asia is a reminder of an advanced civilisation from a bygone era. It has captured the imagination of so many since it was discovered. And mine since 1991, when I first heard Jon Anderson sing ‘Angkor Wat’.

Will Cambodia ever know Democracy? Read Where is Cambodia Heading.

where is cambodia heading - book

The book is full of links to detailed information and videos, tracing the history of Cambodia from 1970 to the present day.




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