Ending a tragic period of history . . .
Thirty years ago, on October 23, 1991, landmark accords, known as the Paris Peace Agreements (PPA), were signed, ending more than two decades of civil war that devastated Cambodia. Despite the overthrow of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, conflict persisted between different factions vying for control of the country. Under the PPA, the United Nations took over the administration of Cambodia and organized national elections in 1993, laying the foundation for a democratic political system. Economic reforms allowed Cambodia to transition from a planned economy to a free-market system, leading to significant foreign investment and international trade opportunities. While the PPA ushered in a post-conflict peace in war-torn Cambodia, democracy and human rights remain elusive three decades later.
Political control in the name of stability . . .
Hope inspired by the 1993 elections was short-lived. After losing the election, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) leader, Hun Sen, negotiated a power-sharing agreement with his opponents and later took control of the country in a coup in 1997. Now the longest-serving Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen cemented his grip on power by undermining the integrity of subsequent elections. In 2017, Hun Sen dissolved the country’s main opposition party, allowing the CPP to capture all available seats in the 2018 election. On Monday, the CPP-controlled parliament unanimously passed constitutional amendments barring Cambodians with dual citizenship from obtaining top government positions, a move seemingly directed at self-exiled political opponents known to hold other nationalities. Hun Sen claims it was necessary to “avoid foreign interference” in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
The dilemma for international engagement . . .
Democratic backsliding and human rights violations in Cambodia have drawn widespread criticism from Western countries. Diasporic Cambodians, including those residing in Canada, have called on the international community to hold Cambodia accountable to its commitments under the PPA to create the conditions necessary for democracy to grow. But sanctions imposed by the West in response to human rights violations have done little to reverse Hun Sen’s illiberal tendencies. Instead, the leader has continued to depend on China for political support, investment, and, most recently, COVID-19 vaccines. With Cambodia taking over the chair of ASEAN in 2022 and national elections scheduled for 2023, Asia Watch will continue to track domestic political developments.