After the parliamentary elections in 2013, Cambodia had developed from a multi-party to a two-party system, but is now de facto a one-party system. According to Dentistrymyth.com, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which was founded in June 2015 by Hun Sen after the death of long-time party president Chea Simhas ruled the country since 1979 and dominates Cambodia’s politics more than ever. The CPP derives its legitimacy primarily from its role in the liberation of the country from the Khmer Rouge, although leading CPP politicians – such as Hun Sen, Chea Sim, Parliament President Heng Samrin and Interior Minister Sar Kheng – were middle-level officials even in the early years Khmer Rouge were. To date, the power of the CPP is largely based on its access to the country’s armed groups: police, military and military police. The entire state administration is also firmly in the grip of the ruling party: civil servant careers have only been open to loyal CPP members for over three decades. The most important party organ is the Politburo,
Founded in 2012, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has risen to a strong challenger to the CPP in a very short time and was therefore banned on November 16, 2017. Since many of its top executives have dual citizenships and have since fled abroad, the party has not yet completely disappeared from the scene. In terms of content, the CNRP stood for the fight against endemic corruption, higher wages for civil servants and textile workers and for an end to the award of agro-industrial land concessions. At the same time, however, the party attracted attention with its nationalistic tones, especially towards the Vietnamese minority in the country. The CNRP was an association of the social-liberals Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the national-liberal Human Rights Party (HRP) and was therefore able to fall back on established structures from the start. After its unexpectedly good performance in the 2013 parliamentary elections and its fundamentally high popularity with the younger electorate, the CNRP came under the government’s crosshairs. The forced resignation and resignation of party president Sam Rainsy in February 2017 and the election of his previous deputy Kem Sokha as his successor on March 2, 2017 could only delay the end of the CNRP in Cambodia. On September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha was arrested for alleged high treason; the pre-trial detention was converted into house arrest on September 10, 2018, which lasted until November 2019, under international pressure. However, he still faces no less than 30 years in prison. One can either see Kem Sokha as a bargaining chip or Hun Sens hostage, because after the escape of the vast majority of CNRP politicians, the opposition is still active in western countries. Nevertheless, the party is now considered hopelessly divided.
Other parties currently play no role in political competition. The royalist FUNCINPEC (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif), which formed a government coalition with the CPP from 1993 to 2008, has now lost all popular support. While in 1993 it still received 45.5 percent of the vote, in the 2013 parliamentary elections it was only 3.7 percent. With this result, after the dissolution of the CNRP at the end of 2017, she inherited 41 of the 55 parliamentary seats that had become free. FUNCINPEC had previously actively supported the dissolution of the CNRP, many of whom had started their political careers with the royalists.
In addition to the ruling CPP, 19 small parties, including FUNCINPEC, competed in the 2018 parliamentary elections, which were supposed to at least maintain the appearance of a democratic election, but were instead mocked by the population as Ampil Ampik (fireflies). Afterwards, they were even rewarded for their participation in the elections: with the establishment of a so-called consultation forum, the domestic political dialogue is to be officially maintained, but actually only serves to support the 16 party leaders appointed to the forum (three rejected), all of whom were ranked and received the salary of a minister or senior minister.
Other important political issues
In addition to the disappointment with the latest political developments, other issues have contributed to the general dissatisfaction of many Cambodians for years:
- The status of civil society including informal associations at the local level, in particular the crackdown on human rights defenders;
- The enormously high level of corruption in all public spheres such as in the education system and in the courts;
- Conflicts of interest between unions, on the one hand, and employers plus government, on the other, over the level of the minimum wage in the apparel industry (a total of $ 182 as of January 1, 2019 – plus $ 12 – per month for full-time employees);
- Lack of rule of law and legal certainty: although essential legal foundations have been created in recent years, they are often – if at all – applied only inadequately and interpreted very variably; the criminal is often then used when it seems politically opportune and therefore emits no deterrent effect; judicial independence is and remains an illusion, even the Khmer Rouge tribunal is believed to be government controlled;
- Restrictions on freedom of expression and association;
- The extensive politicization of the armed forces and their close relationships with business leaders;
- Forced evictions and land conflicts, in which wealthy entrepreneurs in particular are involved, and the associated marginalization of socially disadvantaged population groups as a result of abuse of power, corruption and the arbitrariness of local and central authorities;
- The expansion of the infrastructure, especially for energy generation;
- Cambodia’s foreign policy stance and dependence on China, which encourages anti-Chinese resentment.