CAMBODIA UNDER HUN SEN

HUN SEN’S VIOLENT RULE

Former Australia foreign minister Gareth Evans wrote in Project Syndicate, “A grenade attack on an opposition rally led by Sam Rainsy in March 1997 killed 16 people and injured more than a hundred. That July, after an uneasy period of sharing power with Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s royalist party, Hun Sen launched a bloody coup in which his opponents were exiled, arrested, tortured, and in some cases summarily executed. [Source: Gareth Evans, Project Syndicate, March 7, 2014]

Neither episode generated much international reaction: Hun Sen still had enough political capital from his fight against the Khmer Rouge and his cooperative role in the peace process, while Sam Rainsy was regarded as deeply flawed, and the royalist leadership as feckless. Cambodia-fatigue among policymakers also played a role. At the time, I wanted to believe that these reverses would be temporary, and there were too many like me.

Since then, while preserving a democratic façade, Hun Sen has ruled, for all practical purposes, as an autocrat, showing scant regard for rights of free expression and association – and resorting to violent repression whenever he has deemed it necessary to preserve his and his party’s position.

This has been accompanied by staggering levels of corruption, with Cambodia ranked 160th by Transparency International, out of 175 countries. There are stories, unverifiable but plausible, that 20 or more of Hun Sen’s closest associates have each amassed more than $1 billion through misappropriation of state assets, illegal economic activity, and favoritism in state procurement and contracting. There has also been political patronage bordering on parody, with one recent count putting the government’s size at 244 ministers and secretaries of state.

Hun Sen During the Coalition Government Years

In 1979, when the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown, Hun Sen was appointed Foreign Minister of the Vietnamese-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea/State of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) . In 1985, he was elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister, after the death of Chairman Chan Sy. He remained in that position until 1990, (with a brief interruption from 1986 until 1987). As Foreign Minister, Hun Sen played a pivotal role in the Paris Peace Talks, which brokered peace in Cambodia. During this period Prince Norodom Sihanouk referred to him as a "One eyed lackey of the Vietnamese". In 1987, Amnesty International accused Hun Sen's government of torture of thousands of political prisoners using "electric shocks, hot irons and near-suffocation with plastic bags." [Source: Wikipedia]

Hun Sen became co-prime minister after the 1993 election even though party won 51 seats and his rival’s party FUNCINPEC took 58 seats. After the election, Hun Sen claimed he had been cheated and threatened to go war—and seven provinces declared their were going to secede in protest—if he was not allowed to share power. The United Nations and the United States, neither having the stomach for more turmoil, caved in to Hun Sen’s demands. Hun Sen still controlled a large military force that was loyal to him and they were prepared to fight United Nations troops.

To avoid violence and turmoil, the FUNCINPEC was forced to form a coalition government with Hun Sen. Prince Sihanouk brokered a power sharing deal between Hun Sen and Prince Randariddh and declared himself a constitutional monarch. Under the compromise arrangement, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC's Prince Norodom Ranariddh became first prime minister, while Hun Sen became second prime minister. With all the messiness seemingly under control, the United Nations forces left.

See Separate Articles: COALITION GOVERNMENT OF DEMOCRATIC KAMPUCHEA (1979- 1988) and VIETNAMESE LEAVE CAMBODIA, UN PEACEKEEPERS, 1993 ELECTION AND 1997 COUP

Hun Sen was able to maintain control over troops loyal to him while in the coalition and this enabled him to fend off any threats to his power. From 1993 until 1998 he was Co-Prime Minister with Prince Norodom Ranariddh. In 1997, the coalition was shaken by tensions between Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Hun Sen seized power in a coup and legitimized his rule with an election in 1998.

Hun Sen lived in a compound known as "the Tiger's Lair." Covering one square kilometer, it was regarded as one the largest military bases in the country. In addition to a contingent of 1,500 body guards and crack troops, it housed tanks, trucks, armored personnel carriers, Russian Mi-26 helicopters and sophisticated communications equipment. Hun Sen likes to boast that he could launch artillery raids on Prince Randariddh's palace from his compound.

Hun Sen After the 1998 Election

Hun Sen was sworn as prime minister at a ceremony at Angkor Wat in September 1998 despite an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade near members of the new parliament that killed a small boy. Hun Sen said the blast was an assassination attempt. "This was a clear attempt on my life," he said. "I was very lucky I had already passed.”

The 1998 election brought some semblance of peace and stability to Cambodia. Hun Sen’s party didn’t win a majority. They needed to from a coalition government, which he eventually did with FUNCINPEC. The Sam Rainsy Party was the main opposition party. Perhaps the greatest achievement in the election for Hun Sen was that he could declare himself to be a democrat.

After taking office, Hun Sen hired Bretton Sciaroni, an American public relations advisor and lawyer who worked in the Reagan White House, and her Washington law form, Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, to lobby for him. The effort paid off. It wasn’t long before foreign aid money started to flow back into Cambodia and his government.

After taking office Hun Sen moved into a new house, a huge peach-colored mansion located about 10 miles outside of Phnom Penh. It featured French-style gardens, marble floors, chandeliers, Louis XIV-style furniture, silver bowls and sculptures, crystal chandeliers, and fish ponds. His children studied at schools in France and the United States. One of his sons graduated from West Point. Hun Sen came to the United States to attend the graduation ceremony.

Hun Sen was implicated in corruption related to Cambodia's oil wealth and mineral resources in a Global Witness 2009 report on Cambodia. He and his close associates were accused of carrying out secret negotiations with interested private parties and taking money from those who he would grant rights to exploit the resources. However, the credibility of this accusation has been questioned by government officials and especially Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself. [Source: Wikipedia]

See Forced Evictions

Wikileaks-Released US Embassy Cables on the Politicians with Khmer Rouge Ties

In July 2011, WikiLeaks released its small cache of Cambodia-related dispatches. The 777 cables from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh span the period from 1992 to 2010, nearly the entire life of democratic Cambodia. [Source: Sebastian Strangio, Asia Times, July 27, 2011]

Sebastian Strangio wrote in the Asia Times: “The most controversial of the cables is a June 2002 dispatch (02PHNOMPENH1361) detailing long-standing Foreign Minister Hor Namhong's alleged activities during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. The short cable, which cites an "undated, unattributed report" on file at the embassy, stated that Hor Namhong - described in a 2008 cable (08PHNOMPENH399) as "aged and sclerotic" - returned to Cambodia after the takeover of the Khmer Rouge in April 1975 and took charge of Boeung Trabek prison, a Khmer Rouge interrogation center in Phnom Penh.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, "he and his wife collaborated in the killing of many prisoners", the cable states, including members of the royal family, and sentenced one inmate to death for listening to a French radio broadcast. (The prison was liberated by the Vietnamese before the latter sentence could be carried out). Hor Namhong's wife is cited as saying she "helped [Khmer Rouge leader] Ieng Sary bring back a lot of people to be killed" and that she hoped in exchange that her daughter would be given a role in the communist government. (Earlier this month, Hor Namhong issued a statement condemning the contents of the cable as "highly defamatory". He has twice sued opposition leader Sam Rainsy for defamation for making similar claims in his autobiography Rooted in Stone).

Violence in the 2000s

In November 2000, a group called the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), staged an inept and unsuccessful coup attempt in Phnom Penh. About 80 men—armed with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades and wearing orange headbands and Freedom Fighter T-shirts— stormed the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh.

The assault was the first stage of a coup attempt called Operation Volcano that had been masterminded by Yasith Chlun, a Cambodian-American accountant based in Long Beach California . The government had been tipped off about the attack. Soldiers waited behind the three foot wall at the ministry and opened fire on the rebels when they arrived shortly after midnight, and quickly subdued them. Some of the rebels were said to be drunk. The government said six attackers and one civilian were killed and 12 people were wounded.

The CFF operates out of a windowless office on Long beach. The group claims they have 500 members in the United States and thousands in Cambodia but there is little evidence to support the claim.

In June 2001, five men, including three U.S. citizens, were sentenced to life imprison, and jail terms were given to 25 others for their involvement in the attempted coup. The trial was described as Cambodia’s “biggest terror trial.” Two others were acquitted.

In late 2003, three members of Sam Rainsy’s Party were killed. In early 2004, a labor leader closely associated with his party was gunned down on the streets of Phnom Penh (See Labor) and a ranking member of the royalist party was shot and killed while he was sleeping at his house in Kampot Province, 130 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh.

Election in 2003

Elections in July 2003 resulted in a larger majority in the National Assembly for the CPP, with FUNCINPEC losing seats to the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party. However, CPP's majority was short of the two thirds constitutionally required for the CPP to form a government alone. This deadlock was overcome and a new CPP-FUNCINPEC coalition was formed in mid-2004. When Norodom Ranariddh was chosen to be Head of the National Assembly and Hun Sen became again sole Prime Minister of Cambodia. [Source: Wikipedia]

A total of 23 parties vied for seats in the July 2003 general election. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 73 of the 123 seats. FUNCINPEC was second with 26 seats and The Sam Rainsy Party was third with 24 seats. Before the election FUNCINPEC was losing strength while the Sam Rainsy Party was growing stronger. A number of prominent royalist FUNCINPEC party members defected to the Sam Rainsy Party.

There was more openness and less violence and fewer reports of voter irregularities than in previous elections. A bomb went off a FUNCINPEC headquarters. But that was an exception. For the most part demonstrations and rallies staged by the three main parties were large, peaceful and good natured.

The Sam Rainsy Party and FUNCINPEC joined together to form the Alliance of Democrats. In November 2003, as the opposition they agreed to form a coalition government with CPP after long negotiations presided over by King Sihanouk. The day after signing and agreement leaders of the Sam Rainsy Party and FUNCINPEC said they had reservations about the deal and backtracked.

Stalemate After the Election in 2003 and the Money That Solved It

The 2003 election was followed buy a one year political stalemate. Finally in July 2004, a power sharing deal with the CPP and the royalists was announced. It was arrived at through an “overtly unconstitutional procedure” that involved selling dozens of cabinet positions and left Cambodia with a 186-member cabinet that included 7 deputy prime ministers, 15 senior ministers, 28 ministers and 135 deputy ministers.

The price tag for the highest level jobs went for between $100,000 and $280,000. Prince Ranariddh reportedly received a pay off of $30 million. One Western diplomat told the New York Times. “Hun Sen has demonstrated that he can do just about anything he wants. It’s one of the most ridiculous governments in the history of the country.” The prince denied that he got that much money.

In July 2004, after repeatedly refusing to sign a bill to pave the way for the new government, King Sihanouk finally agreed too reappoint Hun Sen as Prime Minister. When parliament met Hun Sen said that corruption was on the top of his government’s agenda but before anything was done the new ministers made business deals and secured bribes The political scientist Craig Etcheson told the New York Times, “Every position is a graft center...and they’ve just multiplied the centers of government manyfold.”

Katie Nelson wrote in the Washington Post: “Opponents say politics have been largely frozen since then, with Hun Sen's party using government agencies -- especially the police and courts -- to maintain tight control, while fostering close alliances with China and North Korea. Critics say the party ensures its popularity by buying votes with sarongs, rice and small sums of money. They also say the party nurtures a reputation as Cambodia's economic savior by taking credit for infrastructure improvements, plastering the names of the party and its leaders on government projects. There are hundreds of primary and high schools named for Hun Sen throughout the countryside. [Source: Katie Nelson, Washington Post, July 27, 2008]

Local Elections in 2002 and Senate Elections in 2006

In February 2002, Cambodia held its first local elections. The elections selected village and commune level representatives, an important step in bringing grassroots democracy to the country. At stake were 11,000 village council positions in 1,621 communes (clusters of villages). There were 70,000 candidates. Communes have traditionally been the basis of Hun Sen’s support dating back to the days of Vietnamese rule. The CPP won nearly every district. International monitors said there were numerous voter irregularities and widespread vote buying. One member of an election monitoring group was found dead. He had been stabbed and shot in the eyes. Before the election at least 17 activists and candidates had been killed. One royalist activist was shot and killed along with his wife and nephew by gunmen on a motorcycle.

According to Lonely Planet: “Despite national elections since 1993, the CPP continued to monopolise political power at local and regional levels and only with commune elections would this grip be loosened. The national elections of July 2003 saw a shift in the balance of power, as the CPP consolidated their grip on Cambodia and the Sam Rainsy Party overhauled FUNCINPEC as the second party. After nearly a year of negotiating, FUNCINPEC ditched the Sam Rainsy Party once again and put their heads in the trough with the CPP for another term. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Cambodia’s first senate elections were held on January 22, 2006. The election was closed to the general pubic and criticized for lacking credibility. The results: Cambodia’s People’s Party (CPP) won 43 of 54 seats with 7,854 votes. FUNCINPEC won nine seats with 2,320 votes. The Sam Rainsy Party won two seats with 1,165 votes.

Crackdowns and Power Consolidation by Hun Sen in the Mid-2000s

In early 2006, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “The harshest political crackdown in years is under way in Cambodia in what some analysts are calling the final stage in a drive by Prime Minister Hun Sen to consolidate unchallenged power. Over the past year, he has choked off the last effective political opposition while continuing to marginalize the monarchy, manipulate the courts and intimidate labor unions and other civic groups. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, January 10, 2006 <>]

“In December, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the only significant opposition party, who had already fled the country, was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for criminal defamation. Now, with a series of arrests for defamation and related charges, Hun Sen is for the first time directly attacking the human rights groups that, by default, serve as a de facto democratic opposition. "Cambodia right now is at a crossroads: It must decide whether it's going to be a real democracy or whether it's going to move inexorably toward a one-party state," said the U.S. ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli. The special United Nations envoy for human rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai, said that only strong action from the foreign countries that support Cambodia's economy could stop the slide. "It has all the hallmarks of the beginning of a totalitarian regime," he said. <>

“The forms of democracy remain. A parliamentary election is to be held in 2008. And Hun Sen noted that he had not taken action against Sam Rainsy's party, just against Sam Rainsy.

These forms do not compensate for a policy of intimidation, said the U.S. ambassador. "They have scared the hell out of the opposition, and it becomes more difficult to take these trappings of democracy as the real thing each time another voice is silenced," he said. He was speaking after witnessing the arrest on Dec. 31 of the country's most prominent and outspoken human rights figure, Kem Sokha, on a charge of criminal defamation. Kem Sokha was nonpartisan, but his town meetings on democratic rights and his unfettered radio call-in shows were a challenge to the government's control of public opinion. A second human rights campaigner, Yeng Virak, was arrested on the same day. A third, Pa Nguon Teang, was arrested on Wednesday. In October, a popular and acerbic radio journalist, Mom Sonando, and the president of an independent teachers union, Rong Chhum, were arrested on defamation charges. <>

“At least seven other critics face criminal lawsuits by Hun Sen and at least five critics have fled the country, according to Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group. Sam Rainsy, the leader of the opposition party that bears his name, fled to France after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity early in 2005. A second top party official also fled, but a third, Cheam Channy, stayed behind, was arrested and is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for his opposition activities. <>

Many analysts say they are puzzled by Hun Sen's crackdown at a time when his leadership already seems unassailable. But in a country where political life is an endless struggle for power, Hun Sen seems never to rest. The government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, offered one rationale, telling Voice of America radio that the arrests for defamation are part of the country's democratic system. "We have to sue them," he said. "The most important thing is the general election. And in a general election in Cambodia and everywhere in the world, your prestige would be a great asset." <>

“Hun Sen said he was filing his lawsuits to protect his own reputation. "I am a human being, not an animal, and deserve to have my honor and dignity," he said. Indeed, Hun Sen could make a claim to having mellowed. There have been no tanks in the streets and no wave of killings, as there were during the coup in 1997 when he seized sole leadership from Norodom Ranarridh, the co-prime minister installed during the UN intervention. This time he is employing a tactic that has recently been tried by the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra - attacking political critics through defamation lawsuits. <>

“But even during the coup, civil society groups and human rights organizations, with their strong backing from aid donor nations, were for the most part not targeted. "This has been the first breach of the human rights community's wall of safety," said Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "And so for the human rights community this is the darkest moment." At the time of his arrest, Kem Sokha said he had expected eventually to be either arrested, exiled or killed. The determination of people like this is inspiring, said Naly Pilorge, a leader of the human rights group Licadho. "It's funny with a country like Cambodia, with the history of the Khmer Rouge, you just go, 'Boo!' and people are afraid," she said. "And now you see these great displays of courage. And they knew something was going to happen to them sooner or later, and they just kept going." <>

Thai-Cambodian Temple Dispute

See Separate Article: TEMPLE-BORDER DISPUTE BETWEEN THAILAND AND CAMBODIA

Temple Dispute Helps Hun Sen

Ker Munthit of Associated Press wrote: “A dispute with neighboring Thailand over border land near an 11th century Hindu temple has sparked nationalist pride throughout Cambodia and strengthened the longtime prime minister's popularity ahead of parliamentary elections. Thailand sent troops to the border after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the Preah Vihear temple earlier this month. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops and its government says the dispute has triggered "an imminent state of war."[Source: Ker Munthit, Associated Press, July 26, 2008 ><]

"The election is necessary but has become a secondary concern for me now," 27-year-old Sy Buntheng, a university student in the capital Phnom Penh, said ahead of the vote. "The encroachment by Thai troops on our land is the greatest national concern for me." Hun Sen was expected to win re-election before the dispute flared July 15. But passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have galvanized undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Now everybody is behind the government because it's the only institution that can deal with the Thai government. That means more votes for (Hun Sen)," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor.

Cambodia’s national Assembly Election in 2008

National Assembly elections were held on July, 27 2008. More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote. Eleven parties vied for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a government that ran the country until 2013. The Cambodian People's Party held 73 of the National Assembly's 123 seats before the election. "I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen," the prime minister said before the election.

National Assembly 2008 election results 1) The Cambodian People's Party (CCP) won 90 of 123 seats with 3,492,374 votes (58.1 percent of the popular vote). 2) The Sam Rainsy Party won 26 seats with 1,316,714 votes (21.9 percent of the popular vote). The Human Rights Party won three seats with 397,816 votes (6.62 percent of the popular vote). 3) The Norodom Ranariddh Party won two seats with 337,943 votes (5.62 percent of the popular vote). 4) FUNCINPEC won two seats with 303,764 votes (5.05 percent of the popular vote). The League for Democracy won zero seats with 68,909 votes (1.15 percent of the popular vote). The Khmer Democratic Party, Democratic Movement Party, Society of Justice Party, Khmer Republican Party and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party all didn’t win any seats and took less than one percent of the popular vote. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Eleven parties participated in the election down from 23 in 2003, The voter turnout was 81.5 percent. A total of 6,010,277 votes were cast, By the deadline of 12 May 2008, only twelve parties had registered for the election, only half of the 23 parties which contested the 2003 elections and a third of the 39 in the 1998 elections. Ten of those parties fielded candidates in all of Cambodia's 24 provinces and municipalities, while the remaining two fielded candidates in only nine and seven provinces, respectively. Ten parties were approved, one was asked to submit more documents and subsequently approved and one was denied registration. Source: www.necelect.org.kh +

The EU observing mission stated that based on the provisional results, the lead of the CPP was so large that there would have to be very large-scale fraud in order to call the CPP's victory into question. They still criticised the disenfranchisement of a large number of voters, but lauded the improvement over the 2003 elections; on the whole, however, the election fell short of international standards. +

The stand-off with Thailand over the Preah Vihear Temple was widely seen as a successful attempt of the ruling CPP to garner more support. Analysts expected the CPP to increase its majority; as the constitution was amended to remove the need for a two-thirds majority to govern, requiring the more common simple majority instead, it was considered likely that the CPP would be able to govern without a coalition partner. The CPP announced it would retain its coalition with the severely diminished FUNCINPEC, but ordered its leaders Keo Puth Rasmey and his wife Princess Arun Rasmey to stand down and let army general Nek Bhun Chhay take over; he would be the first non-royal to lead FUNCINPEC. The SRP, HRP and NRP threatened to boycott the first parliamentary session unless the irregularities were investigated; the PM replied that in that case, the opposition's seats would be redistributed between CPP and FUNCINPEC. +

Voting in the 2008 Election in Cambodia

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: Hun Sen won “what experts said was the least violent political campaign in Cambodia’s recent history. His overpowering control of the country’s political machinery has been buoyed by economic growth and a sense of stability, as well as by a surge of patriotism as Cambodia faces off against Thailand for sovereignty over a temple on their border. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 28, 2008 ~]

“The democratic election, the country’s fourth since 1993, had a practiced feel, with lines of voters trooping through polling places around the country to slip their ballots into big metal boxes. At the little schoolhouse in this village surrounded by green rice fields and sugar palms, voters filled the courtyard as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m., emerging with black ink on their fingertips to show that they had voted. “I voted for the party I like, but I don’t want to say which one,” said May Buntha, a barber, who charges 50 cents for a haircut in his open-fronted shack by a dirt path through the rice fields here, 45 miles southwest of Phnom Penh, the capital. “If you look at it closely, life is much better than before,” he said, listing the improvements the government had brought: roads, wells, irrigation, schools and clinics. “I’ve just bought a new motorcycle, better than the one I had before,” he said. ~

“At a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, monks in bright orange robes lined up to vote among the local residents. Their abbot, Men Chan Punleu, said they were free to vote their consciences. But, he said: “In Cambodia, children follow their parents. If their parents take good care of them, if they make sure they have food and shelter, the children are grateful.” The casualty in this stable, predictable process is a vibrant, competitive democracy. Mr. Hun Sen’s opponents say they are betting on a rising young generation without memories of past hardships who might push for change in the next election, in five years. ~

“This election has been much quieter than in the past,” said Ly Rattanak, 26, a junior government official, after casting his vote. “There’s less tension. Things are less challenging, and I love challenges. It looks O.K. It looks calm. “But it’s not really fair. It’s a one-man show. I believe in having a stronger opposition to challenge the ruling party and shape the way the ruling party performs.” Criticism of the campaign from the watchdog group Human Rights Watch amounted to an outline of Mr. Hun Sen’s political style: “the near-monopoly on broadcast media for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (C.P.P.); bias within the electoral apparatus; and harassment, intimidation, and coerced defections of opposition party members.” ~

“Mr. Hun Sen’s chief opponent in the 11-party field, Sam Rainsy, claimed that 200,000 registered voters had been left off the electoral lists in Phnom Penh, where he enjoys some of his strongest support. “Scrap the election and do it again,” he said, asserting that Mr. Hun Sen’s party was “full of tricks.” ~

“On the wall outside the schoolhouse in Chbar Morn, a poster urged voters to resist threats, intimidation and vote buying. A series of illustrations portrayed familiar scenes, each marked out with a large red X. In the first illustration, a man with a gun addresses villagers, saying, “Everyone has to vote for one party, otherwise there will be problems.” The villagers respond, “Yes, sir.” In the second, a smiling woman talks to a group of villagers. “Please take this money to help you out in your daily lives,” she says. “But please don’t forget to vote for my party.” The villagers respond, “Yes, thank you, we won’t forget.”In the third, a tough-looking man tells the villagers: “Please remember, when election day comes, I’ll know whom you vote for. Think about it.” In one voice, the villagers respond, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” ~

There is little doubt that threats, vote buying and intimidation were widespread throughout the country, whether to a greater or lesser extent than before. But whatever methods were used, legal or illegal, Mr. Hun Sen summarized the situation neatly earlier this year. “I wish to state it very clearly this way,” he said. “No one can defeat Hun Sen.” ~

Analysis of the Election in 2008

Before the election Katie Nelson wrote in the Washington Post: “Most observers predict that Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party will win big because of the party's massive campaign push and its year-round presence in almost every village. But that doesn't diminish the value of these elections, said Tom Andrews, senior adviser for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. "This election is an important step on the road to a truly democratic Cambodia," said Andrews, a former congressman from Maine who has been observing Cambodia's evolution from communism to democracy. "There are many, many steps remaining for this country before it is a fully functioning democracy, but when you look at it from a vantage point of Cambodia's recent history in the last 10 years or so, you can see clear progress."[Source: Katie Nelson, Washington Post, July 27, 2008 =]

"Under the leadership of the three [party leaders], Cambodia has become a more developed country," Sar Kheng, the deputy prime minister and minister of interior, said at a Cambodian People's Party election rally attended by about 5,000 supporters. "If you vote for CPP, you will have more roads, schools, hospitals, pagodas and everything."The country's minority parties take offense at this carrot-on-a-stick tactic. "Look, look, look! How can it be donated?" the country's main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, asked recently, shaking his fist at a bridge plaque that read "Donated by the Royal Government of Cambodia." "It is the job of the government to build bridges. They treat people in Cambodia like beggars. It's a beggar mentality that they want to maintain so they can stay in power." =

“Hun Sen's party denies those allegations, saying its repeated electoral victories result from the voters' belief in it as the only party able to safeguard the country and ensure development. "Every remote area that supports us, we also support them since long ago with safety and infrastructure," Sar Kheng said. That message resonates: "We left the Pol Pot regime with empty hands, and now our living condition is better than before," said Khieu Lada, 47, a midwife. "Every year, they build us roads and schools, which shows us that they are good leaders who take care of their people." The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of parliament, campaigned for greater attention to human rights, the country's poor and an end to alleged corruption. =

"The country has never been so stable and it's never had sustained economic growth like this before," said Roderick Brazier of the Asia Foundation told the Washington Post. "For a great part of the population, life is now similar to the lives of people in neighboring countries," he said. "It feels like a normal country in that respect." [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 28, 2008 ~~]

Hun Sen's party benefitted from a constitutional amendment requiring only a simple majority - rather than two-thirds of the seats - to form a government. "In the past there was a stalemate, so I had to facilitate this party or that party and enter into a coalition government," Hun Sen said. "Now the winner will get 100 percent. If there is an A there will be no B. If there is a B there will be no A. It is me or him." ~~

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “Hun Sen makes no secret of his very long-term ambitions. "If I am still alive, I will continue to stand as a candidate until I am 90," he said in January 2007. Despite the squeeze, most people interviewed at the market on Friday said Hun Sen was their man. A small crowd had gathered and people were unanimous when asked about the question of the day: who has the rights to the border temple. "Cambodia!" they shouted. "Cambodia, 100 percent." ~~

Hun Sen Rivals Reject His Election Win in Cambodia

AFP reported: “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took nearly 60 percent of the vote but the opposition rejected his win and demanded a new balloting.The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 59.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, compared with nearly 21 percent for the nearest rival, the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, electoral authorities said. [Source: AFP, July Jul 28, 2008]

The four minority parties rejected the outcome, accusing the CPP of fiddling with the voter rolls to ensure their victory. "We call on the international community not to recognise the results because there were a lot of irregularities," longtime government critic Kem Sokha, leader of the upstart Human Rights Party, told reporters. Kem Sokha said the four parties would consider forming a coalition party to challenge the CPP. "We have decided to join forces to struggle with the Cambodian people to demand a re-run of the election in Cambodia," said main opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The royalist FUNCINPEC and Norodom Ranariddh Party also signed a statement accusing the government of rigging the rolls. "The main illegal and fraudulent practises are related to the deletion of countless voters' names and an artificial increase in the CPP votes," the statement said.

Local observers have confirmed that some voters were turned away from polling stations after their names disappeared from the rolls, but they cast doubt on whether the problem was as widespread as the opposition claims. The Comfrel group of election observers said they lamented the drop in voter turnout, which had reached 83 percent in the last general election in 2003. Comfrel’s Thun Saray blamed the fall on a lack of confidence in the political parties, problems with the voter rolls, and rising fuel costs that made transportation too costly for voters to return to their hometowns to cast ballots.He also warned that if the CPP's large victory is confirmed, the result could undermine Cambodia's fledgling democracy. "There will be no more checks and balances in the national assembly," he said. "That is our big challenge."

Hun Sen Lawsuits

AFP reported in June 2010: An outspoken opposition lawmaker in Cambodia on Wednesday said she was ready to go to jail after the country's highest court upheld her conviction for defaming the powerful prime minister.Mu Sochua of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party was convicted last year for defaming Hun Sen during an April news conference, in which she announced plans to sue the premier for allegedly insulting her. The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction against the former minister of women's affairs, for which she has been ordered to pay more than 4,000 dollars in fines and compensation to Hun Sen or face going to jail. [Source: AFP, June 2, 2010 /\/\]

"I have been found guilty of a crime that I have not committed at all. This is not justice," Mu Sochua told reporters. "This is justice for sale and this is justice for the powerful people only," she added, calling the ruling a "travesty". Mu Sochua said she was ready to go to jail rather than pay the fine, before she and several dozen opposition supporters tried to march to a building where the government was meeting with international donors. They were prevented from doing so by armed riot police. /\/\

The Cambodian administration has been heavily criticised by rights groups over the past year for launching a spate of defamation and disinformation lawsuits against critics and opposition members. New York-based Human Rights Watch recently accused Hun Sen's government of aiming to silence political opposition and critics with a "campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action." /\/\

In January 2006, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported: “The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen to drop criminal defamation charges against journalists Mom Sonando, Kem Sokha, and Pa Guon Tieng. The three were released on bail on January 18 after being jailed for criticizing a new border treaty with Vietnam. Similar charges were also dropped against union leader Rong Chhun. At the time of their release on bail Hun Sen said the journalists would still face trial, but told reporters he had dropped the charges after the journalists apologized. [Source: Committee to Protect Journalists, January 24, 2006 ==]

CPJ called on the prime minister to ensure that Cambodia eradicated all criminal defamation laws and released others held under them. "As long as criminal defamation laws remain on the books the government will have a heavy-handed tool to silence critics," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "For example, print journalist Hang Sakhorn has been in jail since December for his reporting on a bribery case that is politically embarrassing to those in power. To resort to charges of criminal defamation in such cases reveals the insecurity of the government in opening the country to a free press." ==

Beehive Radio 105 FM journalist Mam Sonando was jailed on October 11, 2005 for critical reports he aired on the controversial border demarcation treaty with Vietnam. On December 31, Kem Sokha, a radio commentator and also president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was arrested on charges related to critical comments about the government written on a banner the rights group publicly displayed during International Human Rights Day on December 10. ==

Journalist and human rights activist Pa Guon Tieng was arrested on January 4, 2006, by border police while reporting in northeastern Stung Treng province. On January 5, Pa was formally charged as an accomplice to criminal defamation because of his participation in a demonstration in the capital Phnom Penh which criticized the government for the border agreement. ==

Such laws undermine the legal safeguards for freedom of expression and press freedom enshrined in Cambodia's 1993 constitution and 1994 Press Act. Criminal defamation laws were promulgated before the passage of the more democratic 1993 charter, and are punishable by one-year prison terms and possible fines up to 10 million riels (about $2,600). ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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