Political Issues

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Political Issues


In 2000, the political situation in Cambodia remained relatively stable for the second year in a row, which was an important achievement, given the country's tortuous history. This stability itself begs important questions regarding Cambodia's political trajectory, however --- questions which are answered differently by activists and analysts on different sides of the ongoing political divide. This overview of events in the year 2000 will suggest that the current period of political stability is contingent and liable to relapse into turmoil, but that even contingent stability in itself generates forces for further change.

The current period of political stability coincides with the early and middle phases of the electoral cycle. In this respect, among others, the second electoral cycle since the promulgation of the 1993 Constitution contrasts significantly with the first. The first electoral cycle was marred throughout by a continued, overt power struggle between the two major parties of the governing coalition. On one side stood the possessor (by a narrow margin) of the 1993 electoral mandate, the royalist Front Uni Nationale pour un Cambodge Independent, Neutral, Pacifique Et Cooperatif (FUNCINPEC), led by First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. On the other side stood the junior coalition partner, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), led by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the successor to the 1980s one-party state and continued near-total monopolizer of operational bureaucratic power.

Analysis of the first electoral cycle focused on the relationship between these two men, their central party organizations, and the military units loyal to them, as the key to Cambodian stability and reform. This power struggle deteriorated into long-predicted violence in July 1997, with the ouster of Ranariddh and much of FUNCINPEC's leadership, and the defeat of FUNCINPEC forces in a military battle in Phnom Penh and, subsequently, on the Thai border. …

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