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Democracy in Cambodia: Strategy and Recommendations Report

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Updated: May 19th, 2020

Democracy in any state is based on the opportunity of citizens to influence the country’s development in relation to the basic questions such as the political sphere and the control of the government’s activities. However, to set the basics for the development of democracy in many countries, it is necessary to overcome the barriers produced by the previous regimes. Cambodia is the state in which the principles of democracy are proclaimed only during two last decades that is why there are many problems associated with the necessity to build the democratic society, rejecting the main strategies used by the previous governments.

Cambodia is discussed as the post-conflict society where the ideas of the controlled Socialism according to the old-fashioned patterns are more influential than the contemporary orientation to the democratic freedoms. Thus, the Cambodian society and political life are centralized with references to the methods used in the 1980s (Gottesman, 2004). As a result, the society suffers from corruption and bureaucracy, and it is unable to affect the situation in relation to the norms typical for the democratic society. That is why, the orientation to the development of the effective democratic principles in Cambodia requires the significant changes in providing the necessary political legitimacy in the country to achieve the real democracy.

To assess the current situation in Cambodia and provide the strategy and recommendations to develop democracy in the country, it is important to determine the criteria according to which the society and government’s policies and practices can be discussed as democratic. The will of citizens as the major regulative factor is one of the main features of the democratic society. The accents are made on the activities of the public’s representatives who are elected to promote the will of the citizens and act according to this will.

Moreover, the equality of citizens while voting is the important characteristic of the democratic society. The next feature is the protection of the civil liberties. It is also necessary to focus on the rule of law, independence of judiciary, and the presence of the political opposition (Blunt & Turner, 2005). The analysis of these areas in relation to Cambodia can provide the audience with the information about the weak points which prevent the Cambodian society from achieving the ideals of the democratic society effectively.

Some actions should be realized to transform the Cambodian society into the really democratic one. Nevertheless, the transformation can be effective only with references to the history of the country. The traditional Western patterns of democracy should be transformed according to the Cambodian reality. Today, the country is governed by the representatives of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who brought the principles of building the socialistic society in order to build the democratic society.

That is why, the general vision of the legitimacy of democracy should be changed in relation to the Cambodian reality when the basic barriers as the people’s mentality, the violent methods to prove the legitimacy, the fear of the public to support the opposition, the impossibility of the opposition to overcome the principles of the Cambodian politics, the issues of corruption at all the stages of the society and in all the spheres along with the developed bureaucracy (Lilja, 2010). Thus, it is important to outline the main issues which prevent the Cambodian society from the development of democracy in the country.

The first issue is the actual absence of the political pluralism within the country which is based on diminishing the role of the opposition in the political process. The Cambodian parties which are opposite to the largest CPP are rather small to compete at the political arena successfully according to the Cambodian laws regulating the election process with references to the proportional representation system (Hughes, 2012). From this point, the Cambodian citizens are deprived from the opportunity to choose the political force to present their interests according to the real democratic norms. Moreover, the representatives of the opposition parties are often harassed, and this fact makes them to stop their political activity (Hughes & Joakim, 2006).

The CPP is also prevalent in commune councils, and this fact allows speaking about the centralization of the power without any signs of the political pluralism as the main feature of the democratic society (Blunt & Turner, 2005). The people’s civil liberties are also violated in Cambodia in relation to the freedom of expression and the penal code according to which it is not permitted to criticize the government. The rights of minorities and refugees are violated, the gender inequality is observed in the social life. Furthermore, the judicial system is politicized, the corruption develops, and the anti-corruption law cannot stop the process (Hughes, 2012). All the mentioned factors support the idea that the centralization in Cambodia is opposite in its basics to the development of the democratic society.

It is necessary to concentrate on one general and two concrete approaches to change the situation in Cambodia in relation to democracy and provide the recommendations which are effective to realize the democratic principles within the Cambodian society. The first general approach is oriented toward rethinking the principles of centralization in Cambodia, and it is based on supporting the democratic ideas of political pluralism. From this point, it is important to work out new regulations and standards for the parties to participate in the election and influence the political environment in Cambodia.

Moreover, it is necessary to transform the basic principles of connecting the central and local governments according to which citizens have no abilities to affect the political environment locally in such situations as the removal of the incompetent governor. The dialogue between the public and the local leaders should be open, and the leaders should become really responsible for their actions (Blunt & Turner, 2005). The provision of the access of the new parties to the political arena and the decentralization strategies are main practices to be realized in Cambodia to contribute to the development of democracy in the country. However, the effectiveness of realization of these processes is based on completion of the smaller goals.

The two concrete changes and improvements in relation to the legal regulations in Cambodia are associated with reforming the anti-corruption law and the penal code in relation to the citizens’ possibility to criticize the activities of the government which is closely connected with the freedom of expression. The anti-corruption law was worked out to overcome the problematic issues associated with the uncontrolled expansion of corruption in all the spheres, including the Cambodian economic and political life. In spite of the fact the anti-corruption law was developed and adopted in 2010, it is not effective to regulate the corruption issues or prevent their emergence.

Moreover, there are some aspects in the law which can be manipulated to support the authoritarian regime typical for the country. Thus, “the law contains a provision that whistleblowers face imprisonment if police cannot find evidence to support their allegations of corruption” (Hughes, 2012). In this case, the anti-corruption law can be discussed as useless to contribute to controlling the corruption in Cambodia. It is necessary to develop the strategy according to which the anti-corruption law should be revised and improved in order to avoid the points which can be manipulated against the democratic principles.

The next change which is necessary to be realized in relation to the Cambodian democratic society is the revision of the penal code. The freedom of expression is one of the basic civil liberties, but it is openly violated in the Cambodian society with references to the law which prevents people from expressing their vision of the government’s policies. The revision of the penal code is closely associated with the necessity to provide people with more freedom to express their will because the democratic society develops basing on the citizens’ vision of the country’s development (Gottesman, 2004). It is impossible to speak about the democratic principles when people cannot express their ideas openly and widely.

Thus, it is possible to state that the principles of democracy and democratic society are violated and manipulated in Cambodia because the real political structure used in the country is the reflection of the authoritative regime. The constitutional framework realized in the country does not provide the public with the necessary rights and freedom to control the aspects of developing the social and political life in Cambodia.


Blunt, P., & Turner, M. (2005). Decentralisation, democracy and development in a post conflict society: Commune councils in Cambodia. Public Administration and Development, 25(1), 75-87.

Gottesman, E. (2004). Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge: Inside the politics of nation building. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hughes, C. (2012). Cambodia. Web.

Hughes, C., & Joakim, Q. (2006). Reassessing tradition in times of political change: Post-war Cambodia reconsidered. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 37(3), 415-420.

Lilja, M. (2010). Discourses of hybrid democracy: The case of Cambodia. Asian Journal of Political Science, 18(3), 289-309.

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1. IvyPanda. "Democracy in Cambodia: Strategy and Recommendations." May 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-in-cambodia-strategy-and-recommendations/.


IvyPanda. "Democracy in Cambodia: Strategy and Recommendations." May 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-in-cambodia-strategy-and-recommendations/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Democracy in Cambodia: Strategy and Recommendations." May 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-in-cambodia-strategy-and-recommendations/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Democracy in Cambodia: Strategy and Recommendations'. 19 May.

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