Cambodia: Peace and Stability Is Not Everything


Ian Wilson

Cambodia has enjoyed relative calm since the coup of 1997 and the general election which installed Hun Sen’s government in the following year. His power-sharing deal with Prince Ranariddh was scarcely equitable but at least it maintained the peace, and a new election is due in July 2003. Unfortunately, the result could be more like a repeat of the 1998 election rather than the United Nations-supervised poll in 1993, which was actually won by FUNCINPEC under Rannaridh and a loose alliance of democratic groups. Next time, the oppositionists are unlikely to make any real inroads on the Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) grip on power. Dominance by a single party may become a permanent feature of this poor and war-torn constitutional monarchy. Already, the remains of the royalist leadership seem to have slipped into comfortable alliance with the CPP, sharing with them the spoils of office, not political power.

Poverty and an undeveloped economy prevent real material progress at present and Cambodia remains reliant on foreign aid and loans to survive. This makes it difficult to combat crime, corruption and poor levels of health, education and social services. Political power remains very personal so, given the strong showing of the CCP in the local commune elections last February, the task of any viable opposition to mount a credible challenge remains a daunting one. The patronage that Hun Sen’s party has at its disposal and the allegiance of a majority of commune leaders since last February serve, in combination, to consolidate political power under Hun Sen.

Multilateral aid agencies and a group of generous donor states have developed a wealth of experience and tolerance through working in Cambodia and appreciate that there are countervailing forces within the community working towards more equitable outcomes. Locally based and funded NGOs have found a voice and, together with sections of the press, they provide some checks on a government which owes so many debts within the community that at times it has no room to manoeuvre between interests, let alone manipulate them. Patience and informed tolerance will be sorely taxed before real strides towards a reformed Cambodia can be made. Too many past conflicts between outsiders who simply used Cambodia as a battleground. But today’s international climate is hardly favourable to Cambodia’s growth and prosperity.

WATCHPOINT: Effective trials of war criminals, speedier army demobilisation and more transparency in financial management are prerequisites for increased international support of Cambodia.


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