In 2017, the Cambodian government dismantled the Cambodian National Rescue Party, clamped down on civil liberties and organized elections in 2018 without the presence of a credible opposition party. The presentation examines the reasons underlying the government’s decision to close down democratic space by focusing on the following arguments. First, the presence of some semblance of democracy in Cambodia was the outcome of the Western community’s pressure through its granting financial assistance and preferential trade access to Cambodia. So long as this order permitted the Cambodian People’s Party to maintain its domination, it conceded to Western demands. Second, by the 2013 elections, key socio-economic and political changes culminated in a counter-movement to the CPP’s patronage-based politics. When the CPP felt that its grip on power was threatened, it instituted hegemonic electoral authoritarianism. Third, since Cambodia’s democracy is a product of Western intervention and continued engagement, Cambodia’s recent return to authoritarianism can to a great extent be attributed to China’s role as a counter-leverage to Western pressure.
Kheang Un (Ph.D. Northern Illinois University) is an associate professor of Political Science. His teaching and research interests include democracy, democratization, human rights, non-governmental organizations and political economy focusing on Cambodia and the developing world.
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