The government has charged the opposition leader with treason and silenced independent media as strongman Hun Sen tries to hold on to power. But its actions reflect a broader dynamic
Cambodia’s Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest standing leaders. His party has been happy to hold elections as long as it knows it is going to win, and to embrace underhand tactics or outright force when things don’t go quite as planned. Another poll looms next year and, after more than three decades in his post, the prime minister and former Khmer Rouge commander says he has decided to continue for 10 more years to ensure stability.
Voters seem less keen on his unending tenure – and the Cambodian People’s Party knows it. A gradual expansion of space for civil society, activism and political activity went into reverse after the opposition united and did better than expected in 2013’s poll. The process accelerated last year as the CPP grew more nervous. It suffered again in this year’s local elections. It has overseen strong growth and reduced inequality. But there is widespread anger over rampant corruption and land grabs. An overwhelmingly young and increasingly urban population, more knowledgeable and sophisticated than their parents thanks to city life, social media and travel, feel they owe the government little.