The Repressing IRON Hand of One Man Rules Cambodia
Cambodia defines itself as a constitutional monarchy, which means they have a king, but the royal government runs all political operations in the country. Hun Sen representative of the Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) serves as a Prime Minister as of 1985, and his government have shaped modern Cambodian politics. However, their affairs of state are mostly relying on suppressive measures, intimidation of political opponents, and violation of human rights.
The contemporary history of this country in Southeast Asia is marked by turmoil and tough times. The Constitution of Cambodia came into force in 1993, as a result of the Paris Peace Agreements accomplished two years earlier.
The country organized the election with the support of the United Nations Transitional Authority settled in that country. According to the highest legislative act, Cambodia is a liberal and democratic country in which the power is delegated to the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches.
Cambodia is a country with a centuries-long history and impressive culture. The religion, primarily Buddhism that came from India, had a huge influence on them. The country saw the highest prosperity during the Khmer empire from the 9th until the 15th century. After that, it all started collapsing. In the 19th century, Cambodia became a French colony, which also affected its modern constitution and politics.
They regained authority over the country back in the 20th century, but they got in between the fires of the Cold War. After that, Vietnamese soldiers seized the capital city of Phnom Penh, but Cambodians gained it back in 1979. However, that prompted the foundation of Khmer Rouge — assertive communist division.
The Khmer Rouge Terror
The notorious Khmer Rouge imposed a rule of terror in Cambodia that lasted four years. After they won the civil war in this country, they managed to overthrow the government, took over the capital, and named the country Democratic Kampuchea.
Khmer Rouge troopers forced people out of the big cities and send them to work in the fields. Their politics was highly autocratic and repressive. They tortured and executed roughly two million people, among them, were their political opponents, minorities, but also writers, artists, even teachers.
The communist soldiers closed the schools and cultural institutions, they even tried to destroy everything related to culture. Fortunately, their rule of terror finally ended in 1979, but it took its toll on Cambodia.
The King Is Just a Symbolic Figure
Considering that Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, their king is more of a symbol of the nation, and he doesn’t have the political power. That means he doesn’t rule, but the executive bodies still have to ask for his approval, and he also proclaims the new laws.
Norodom Sihanouk served as the King of Cambodia in the period between 1993 and 2004. And regardless of the fact that he wasn’t a ruler, he was highly influential. He was competent and wise, and he had his ways of forcing the government to overcome disagreements amongst parties that were slowing them down. For example, several times he warned the government that he would abdicate because he was annoyed by their political conflicts.
He finally gave up the position in 2004, and heir Norodom Sihamoni took over the throne. But, the current king doesn’t live in Cambodia, he resides in France. He is not that much involved in what’s going on in this country, which is the reason people don’t adore him like they did his father.
It’s interesting to know that the royalty position in Cambodia is not hereditary, which means the heir of the monarch will not necessarily be his successor to the throne. It is the Royal Council that selects the new king once the old one dies or abdicates. They choose the new monarch from the list of royal blood candidates, and they do it within a week since the reign of the old king ends.
Who Rules the Country?
Royal Government has the highest executive power, but all their moves have to be done on behalf and with the approval of the King. The Prime Minister runs the government, and he rules with the help of the Council of Ministers. The King elects the Prime Minister, based on the endorsements from the President and Vice President of the Assembly.
When the Prime Minister undertakes the office, he then picks the rest of the ministers in his government. Naturally, they are subordinated to him. Together they are an executive division of Cambodia.
Who Makes the Laws?
Legislative power is in the hands of two lawmaking bodies — the National Assembly and Senate.
As the upper house, Senate has 61 members and their terms last six years. The King appoints two of the members of the Senate, the lower house selects the additional two, while the local governments choose the remaining 57. The members of the Senate review the legislature.
This is the lower house and has 125 members. They are elected by voting, and their term lasts for five years. Members of the National Assembly choose the chairman and deputy chairman. This body can vote on preliminary versions of the law. While Cambodians can vote when they turn 18 years, they can be elected for the legislature when they are at least 25.
When the piece of legislature passes these two bodies, then it goes to the King, who will sign it and proclaim it. The monarch can’t veto the laws and bills that got the green light from the Assembly.
The Judicial System of Cambodia
Judiciary in Cambodia is comprised of several courts. The Supreme court is the uppermost institution that resolves appeals filed by the other lower institutions. Cambodia founded the Constitutional Council that explains bills and laws and takes care of disputes in regards to the appointment of members of the legislature.
According to Cambodia’s Constitution, the judiciary should protect the rights of the people and prosecute criminals. But, as a matter of fact, the judicial system in this country is highly corrupt.
The Portrait of Hun Sen
The second head of the government in modern Cambodia is Hun Sen, a member of the ruling party CCP. His regime is ruling Cambodian people for more than three decades. When he was elected, Sen was in his early 30s, and he is set to rule until he turns 74.
Sen almost never lost national elections, although the fairness of the ballots, especially in recent years, is questionable. The only time when he actually lost was back in 1993, when prince Norodom Ranriddh, the president of the FUNCINPEC party, became Prime Minister.
However, Sen found a way to stay in the government as a co-prime minister. But, in 1998, in controversial circumstances, Sen managed to overthrow Ranriddh and overtake the position of the leader of the government.
Hun Sen settled an autocratic regime, and he surrounded himself with the ruling elite. The members of that privileged establishment are his family, members of his party, and military forces. Together they control all institutions in Cambodia and the economy of the country. Sen’s three sons assume the most prominent positions in the CCP, while his daughters are also in charge of many national businesses.
That same elite is the only part of the society that actually has benefited from Hun Sen’s affairs, the rest of the people live very poorly. CCP, Sun’s party possess all 125 places in the National Assembly and the majority in the Senate. One of the characteristics of Sen’s government is that he intimidates the opposition and all his political rivals.
For example, all front people of the National Rescue Party are in exile for several years, because of Sen’s threats. Leader Sam Rainsy said that he would return to the country if Sen steps down as a Prime Minister. But Sen responded that he would arrest Rainsy and all other politicians of his party as soon as they come back from exile.
This kind of behavior isn’t that much surprising because Hun Sen used to be a soldier of the notorious Khmer Rouge. And it seems that he took the suppressive elements from his former political party and continue to enact them.
Endangered Human Rights
Many Cambodians are unsatisfied with how Sen runs the country, but there is not a lot they can do. Mostly because he intimidates and arrests people who oppose him. As reported by Human Rights Watch, the situation in Cambodia regarding human rights is bad. The report says that Sen persecutes his political competitors, activists, and journalists.
Cambodian government restricts basic human rights almost daily, and nobody can do anything. For example, Cambodians are not allowed to gather on the streets, even though their constitutional rights allow them to do so. And, we are not talking only about political protests, but also all other kinds of gatherings are banned. But, with a crooked judiciary that doesn’t do its job properly, this kind of thing can happen.
Hun Sen’s government and elite also abuse the freedom of speech. Free journalism almost does not exist. Until recently, The Phnom Penh Post was the only independent newspaper. But the media was bought by a businessman who is assumed to have connections with Sen. That means the Prime Minister has the leverage over them too.
Two journalists of Radio Free Asia are on trial because the government accused them of espionage. These are just some examples that show to what extent Sen’s government invades independent journalism. In such an environment, it’s hard for people to raise their concerns.
The Constitution of Cambodia guarantees a democratic country, but the rule of law is overrated because of the dictatorial regime. Prime Minister Hun Sen uses all means to intimidates and prosecutes those who do not agree with him. His government and dominating elite are working only for the sake of their good, without thinking about civil society.
Human rights abuses are prevalent, but the court system failed to prosecute anyone so far. Sen is limiting the freedom of the press, terrorizing his political adversaries and outlawing them. That kind of political climate doesn’t look promising for the country. Mostly because Sen and his allays are putting their personal goals and interests before national prosperity.