Connect with us

Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Cambodia Ditches Democracy Promise with Sham Elections

Ignoring the Hun Sen regime's hereditary succession is to nullify the international community's efforts to turn Cambodia into a democracy.



Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, on the left, and his son Hun Manet, who will succeed him, is on the right.

What went wrong in Cambodia? The country seemed likely to choose the path of democratization with the support of the international community.

However, with the leading opposition parties excluded from participation, the recent general election in that country was neither fair nor legitimate. 

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 38 years, should take the international community's disappointment and condemnation seriously.

Chinese former Premier Li Keqiang and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen watches over the signing of the bilateral cooperation documents on February 11, 2023. (© Press and Quick Reaction Unit of Cambodia)

What Happened

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP), led by Hun Sen, swept all 125 seats in the National Assembly in the July 23 general election.

That was not because the CCP enjoys such widespread support. Rather, it was because the National Election Committee under the influence of the regime refused to allow leading opposition parties to register as political parties. Instead, it cited their supposed "failure to submit the required registration documents." 

The election law was also revised to prohibit calls to abstain or cast a blank ballot. 

This is the second time that such outright banning of the opposition has occurred. In 2017, the largest opposition party at that time was disbanded and its leader arrested. The following year, the ruling party won every single seat in the parliament.

A mere three days after last July's general election, Hun Sen announced he was resigning. He then reiterated his intent to pass power to his eldest son Hun Manet. The "overwhelming victory" in the election is nothing more than an obligatory "performance" to justify hereditary succession.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army Hun Manet, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his declared successor, are in the Prime Minister's Office on February 16, 2022. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

International Reaction

A United States spokesperson criticized the election as a betrayal of the Cambodian government's international commitments to become a democracy. The US State Department said it was "troubled that the July 23 Cambodian national elections were neither free nor fair." In the same statement, it announced the US was suspending aid to the Southeast Asian country.

Moreover, it is considering restricting the issuance of visas to "individuals who undermine democracy."

In contrast, Japan simply offered a feeble, "We are watching the situation with concern."

Skulls of the victims of the Khmer Rouge occupation of Cambodia in the memorial stupa at the Choeung Ek Killing Field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (©Wikimedia Commons by Istolethetv)

Democracy Initiatives in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge genocide led by Pol Pot and the civil war that followed lasted for two decades. Desirous of seeing democracy take root in Cambodia, the United Nations and Western nations provided that country with a great deal of aid. The first democratic elections took place exactly 30 years ago, under UN supervision.

Back then, at first, Japan participated in UN peacekeeping operations (PKO). However, two Japanese, a UN volunteer and a civilian police officer, were shot and killed. 

In the end, Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy after those early elections, and Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as king.

Nevertheless, after that, Hun Sen turned his back on the support and expectations of the international community. He sought more and more power and became more and more oriented toward China.

Ignoring the current situation in Cambodia is to nullify all the efforts that have been made to date. That includes the legacy of the two Japanese men who offered their lives for a democratic Cambodia.

Japan should persist in extolling democratic values to Cambodia and intensify its efforts to reach out to the country.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

Our Partners