Cambodia's struggle for democracy: Government and Regimes
From the time of its independence from French occupation in 1953, to the 1970s Khmer Rouge Communist Regime, to today’s UN-mandated democratic coalition government, Cambodia continues to struggle for peace and unity amid a tumultuous political playground.
1955-1969 - Sangkum Reastr Niyum, King Sihanouk Head of State
After the French withdrew from Cambodia, King Norodom Sihanouk became the country’s new political leader of the Popular Socialist Party. Throughout the 1960s, Sihanouk struggled to keep Cambodia neutral as the neighboring countries of Laos and South Vietnam came under increasing Communist attack during the Vietnam War.
King Norodom Sihanouk
King and Queen of Cambodia
King Sihanouk gave considerable power to his defense minister and supreme commander of the army; Lt. Gen. Lon Nol who later overthrew Sihanouk as Head of State. Sihanouk went into exile in Beijing, China. Soon after the coup, South Vietnam and U.S. used Cambodia as another battleground against the Communists. Cambodia was no longer a neutral state.
In 1970, the U.S. supported the South Vietnamese fighting in Cambodia through air strikes that destroyed villages and killing thousands of civilians. This angered many Cambodians leading them to support the growing communist regime in Cambodia; the Khmer Rouge.
1970-1974 Republican of Cambodia: Lon Nol Regime
With the withdrawal of U.S., North, and South Vietnamese troops from Cambodia a civil war ensued. Fighting broke out between Lon Nol’s troops and the Khmer Rouge communists, which grew to 30,000.
Lon Nol fled to Hawaii when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 thus beginning Cambodia’s reign of terror.
1975-1979 - Democratic Kampuchea: Khmer Rouge Communist
Following the takeover in 1975, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot renamed the country “Democratic Kampuchea”. He then proceeded to force entire urban populations, such as those in Phnom Penh, to the rural areas to work in agriculture.
About one and a half million people were executed by the Khmer Rouge during this four year period. Members of the upper, middle, and educated classes, along with suspected enemies of the Khmer Rouge, were all victims of the genocide.
1979-1991 - Civil War: Heng Samren Regime
In 1978 the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia. By 1979 they had seized Phnom Penh pushing the Khmer Rouge into the jungles, ending the genocide.
That same year, with the success of the Vietnamese invasion a former Khmer Rouge leader, Heng Samrin, led a successful revolt against Pol Pot taking over as Cambodia’s President and Communist leader. Throughout the 1980’s Cambodia civil war raged with fighting among a Sihanouk-led guerrilla group, Heng Samrin’s army, Hun Sen’s army, Vietnamese troops and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Heng Samrin lost power to Hun Sen (the new Vietnamese-backed premier) but remained Head of State until Sihanouk’s return in 1991.
In 1987, peace talks among the warring leaders began in Paris, and in 1989, Vietnam agreed to withdraw all its troops. On Oct. 23, 1991, a Paris Peace treaty was signed by all the warring leaders: Sihanouk, Hun Sen and Pol Pot. However, the Khmer Rouge did not disarm as agreed and continued guerrilla fighting.
Sihanouk criticized the Khmer Rouge and joined forces with Hun Sen to become Head of State again in 1991. The United Nations began working for democratic elections in Cambodia.
The Cambodian government
1993-1997 - Royal Government of Cambodia: The Beginning of Democracy
1998-2002 - Royal Government of Cambodia: Monarchy, National Assembly and Senate
2003-2007 - Cambodia Without a Government: The Deadlock
Supervised by a large UN-peace keeping mission called UNTAC, Cambodia held its first democratic elections in May of 1993. The Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections and continued to fight in the large territories they controlled in the northern and western parts of the country. The Royalist party won the largest number of seats and Hun Sen’s party came in second. A two party coalition government was formed with co-premiers, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen sharing powers. A new constitution reestablished the monarchy with Sihanouk becoming King.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has a constitutional monarchy headed by a king along with a parliament headed by a premier. The parliament has of a popularly elected National Assembly consisting of at least 120 members and a Senate with no more than half the number of members of the National Assembly.
Members of parliament serve five-year terms. The premier must have the support of two thirds of the members of the National Assembly.
In July 1998, Prince Ranariddh returned to Cambodia and ran against Hun Sen again in the legislative elections. Hun Sen's party (the Cambodian People's party) was the official winner of the controversial election and he became the only premier. Prince Ranariddh became the president of the National Assembly. Hun Sen has since further strengthened his control of the country.