Cambodia will take to the polls on July 23rd under a cloud of controversy, largely based around the banning of the Candlelight Party of Sam Rainsy. Yet despite said controversy the atmosphere in Cambodia is currently electric and far from the fear mongering “one party state” mantra being put out by unfriendly gutter journalists.
Prelude to the 2023 Cambodian elections
The 20th century was largely one filled with hardship for Cambodia. It began as a French colony, was occupied by Japan and then after finally being given independence by Norodom Sihanouk was dragged into the Vietnam War.
Despite this there was almost a golden era for Cambodia going into the 1950’s and 60’s with Sihanouk cementing a nation state that punched way above its weight for the first time in centuries. Something the country is only slowly starting to get back to now.
During this time Sihanouk ruled under his own unique vision of Buddhist Socialism, whilst also being pivotal in creating the Non-Aligned-Movement (NAM).
You can read about the NAM here.
This period saw numerous infrastructural projects, a rise in living standards, as well as Cambodia despite its size being a major player among developing nations. This included hosting the GANEFO games, AKA the “Olympics of The Left”.
You can read about GANEFO here.
Other triumphs included helping North Korea qualify for the 1966 World Cup, as well as Sihanouk becoming the benchmark for neutrality. During this time he became friends with Chairman Mao and perhaps most famously “best friends” with Kim Il-Sung of North Korea. All the while retaining ties with the west, as well as keeping Cambodia a capitalist, as well as a Buddhist state.
You can read about the Sihanouk – Kim Il-Sung friendship here.
The fall of Sihanouk
Sadly despite being capitalist, neutral and independent Sihanouk was still considered “too left” by the western (US) powers and was overthrown in a CIA backed coup in 1970.
Sadly it would take years for the folly of this to be truly recognized. Sihanouk made an unholy alliance with the Khmer Rouge, who at the time were seen as nationalist liberators rather than the xenophobic barbarians they became.
This ironic twist of events would see average Cambodians fight for the coalition of King and Khmer Rouge, with most thinking they were aligned with Sihanouk. What followed of course was Democratic Kampuchea and the horrors of the Killing Fields.
You can read about Democratic Kampuchea here.
Sihanouk was briefly head of state, before exile in the Royal Palace and an eventual rejoining of forces with the Khmer Rouge after the country fell to the Khmer and Vietnamese liberators.
To read if Cambodia is still run by the Khmer Rouge click here.
Thousands of words could be written for what happened next, but to summarize the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea was run by the liberators, while Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge – Both supported by the west wreaked havoc on the Cambodian people.
So, when Cambodia does on occasion stand up to the west, remember that not only was the west in bed with the Khmer Rouge, but the mines and unexploded munitions that still liter the country and kill hundreds of people a year are byproduct of this.
You can read about de-mining in Cambodia here.
Peace in Cambodia
Peace to a manor was finally achieved in 1993 in Cambodia with Sihanouk again as head of state and elections finally held for the reinstated Kingdom of Cambodia. This resulted in the Khmer Rouge refusing to take part and going rogue, as well as a hung parliament.
In the end the Cambodian People’s Party and FUNCINPEC, the royalist party entered into a coalition, but it was a status quo that was never going to last. In the end there was almost a civil war, with the CPP winning the battle and creating a situation where the party has been in power ever since.
During this period of power the party not only vanquished the Khmer Rouge and its last state through the win-win policy, but also led the country to economic growth that has averaged 7.7% a year. Yes the country is not perfect, but it is on the road to becoming middle-income, whilst ushering in period of unprecedented peace in the country.
To read about the last Khmer Rouge state click here.
Context to the 2023 Election
The main controversy for the 2023 elections derives largely from the same problems that occurred during the 2018 elections and that is the banning of the main opposition party. In 2018 it was a party led by Sam Rainsy and again in 2023 another party led by him, namely the Candlelight Party has now been “banned”.
Why have these parties been banned? Some would say to stifle the opposition, but the government will certainly point to the many legal issues related to the party, as well as foreign interference. The Candlelight Party receives much support from certain American interests. Now this is a good time to remember that the US got very tetchy about alleged Russian interference in their own elections.
What the ban is certainly not about is fear of losing, with the Candlelight Party winning very little in the 2022 municipal elections in the country.
You can read about the Candlelight Party here (link to EA).
Cambodian Election Fever
And currently at least the country is embroiled in election fever. Government and opposition vehicles can be seen driving throughout the country and there are even impromptu concerts put on by parties to try and secure votes.
People are excited, the masses will vote and a government will be formed. In this context the elections will be a big success.
Now of course we all know that in the end the CPP will win the election. They are popular and the country is stable, Sadly this will lead many media, such as the Cambodian South-East Asia Globe to cry foul, or search desperately for any way to criticize the government and the elections, but it ignores some salient points.
Cambodia and much of the east are not looking to the failed democracies of the USA, or UK for inspiration, but rather to countries such as Singapore who balance personal freedoms with strong government and most importantly prosperity.
Success in the elections therefore is not about it being like a tightly fought football match, but rather the best results happening for the people. As things stand this is what the 2023 Cambodian elections are likely to deliver.