Cambodian gains at risk from Hun Sen crackdown

With media and the main opposition party facing the wrath of the country’s prime minister, it is essential that free elections be held in a changing society

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 1:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 1:36am

Political stability is a necessity for a nation to prosper and thrive. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is putting what has been achieved at risk with his crackdown on critics and the media. A majority of the population has embraced democracy, understanding the importance of strong voices to keep the government transparent and accountable. Rolling back the process is bound to have negative repercussions.

Hun Sen is among the world’s longest serving leaders, having held power since 1985. He is open to elections as long as his ruling Cambodian People’s Party does well. When the opposition makes gains or seems a threat to his continued grip, as in national polls in 2013 and those at a local level in June, his autocratic tendencies become more pronounced. With next year’s general election looming, he has struck out at the main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, having charged leader Kem Sokha with treason and tried to disband the party, moves that have prompted almost half of its lawmakers to flee overseas. Foreign-linked media and local and international NGOs have been forced to close.

Two million reasons why Cambodia’s prime minister fears US meddling in elections

Former party leader Sam Rainsy went into self-imposed exile in 2005 and another Hun Sen rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, has fled and returned several times, most notably after 100 people died in political clashes that led to his ousting as co-premier. Despite such events, though, there has been democratic progress, ensuring high turnouts at elections and a steady rise in support for the opposition, particularly among a young urban population that is increasingly well-educated. Cambodia has been able to average an annual economic growth rate of 7 per cent since 1993, markedly reducing poverty. The garment and tourism industries have driven the economy and rising investment and aid from China have filled a gap left by Western nations, in retreat since the 2008 financial crisis.

Hun Sen said recently he intended to continue as leader for another 10 years to ensure stability. He has implemented moderate reforms to improve livelihoods and increase government accountability, but Cambodians want substantially more. That will only come about if elections are free and fair.