History, Recent Developments
UNTAC, Sam Rainsy, Paris accords, headlong rush, Pol Pot
In September 1989, as the Cold War ended and Soviet financing of the Vietnamese forces in Cambodia fell sharply, Vietnam withdrew its troops from Cambodia. The withdrawal left the Cambodian regime, under young prime minister Hun Sen, in a precarious position, deprived of all substantial foreign aid and threatened militarily by the forces of the Khmer Rouge and their allies on the Thai-Cambodian border. Soon afterward the PRK officially abandoned socialism, renamed itself the State of Cambodia (SOC), and introduced a range of reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment and increasing the popularity of the ruling KPRP, renamed the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
A program of privatization, which ended collectivized agriculture, and a headlong rush toward free-market economics from 1989 to 1992 widened the inequities in Cambodian society. Some members of the government became millionaires overnight, while the national economy was still stumbling to its feet. As markets opened in Thailand and Vietnam, exploitation of Cambodia’s gem and timber resources by foreign businesses became widespread. Meanwhile, fighting between government and Khmer Rouge forces intensified, as the Khmer Rouge occupied large areas in the relatively inhospitable northern part of the country.
In October 1991 Cambodia’s warring factions, the UN, and a number of interested foreign nations signed an agreement in Paris intended to end the conflict in Cambodia. The agreement provided for a temporary power-sharing arrangement between a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and a Supreme National Council (SNC) made up of delegates from the various Cambodian factions. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former king and prime minister of Cambodia, served as president of the SNC.
The Paris accords and the UN protectorate pushed Cambodia out of its isolation and introduced competitive politics, dormant since the early 1950s. UNTAC sponsored elections for a national assembly in May 1993, and for the first time in Cambodian history a majority of voters rejected an armed, incumbent regime. A royalist party, known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC, won the most seats in the election, followed by the CPP, led by Hun Sen. Reluctant to give up power, Hun Sen threatened to upset the election results. Under a compromise arrangement, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk’s sons, became first prime minister, while Hun Sen became second prime minister.
In September 1993 the government ratified a new constitution restoring the monarchy and establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia. Sihanouk became king for the second time. After the 1993 elections, no foreign countries continued to recognize the DK as Cambodia’s legal government. The DK lost its UN seat as well as most of its sources of international aid.
The unrealistic power-sharing relationship between Ranariddh and Hun Sen worked surprisingly well for the next three years, but relations between the parties were never smooth. The CPP’s control over the army and the police gave the party effective control of the country, and it dominated the coalition government. In July 1997 Hun Sen staged a violent coup against FUNCINPEC and replaced Prince Ranariddh, who was overseas at the time, with Ung Huot, a more pliable FUNCINPEC figure. Hun Sen’s action shocked foreign nations and delayed Cambodia’s entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). By the end of 1997, Cambodia was the only nation in the region that was not a member.
Despite the coup, elections scheduled for July 1998 proceeded as planned. Hundreds of foreign observers who monitored the elections affirmed that voting was relatively free and fair; however, the CPP harassed opposition candidates and party workers before and after the elections, when dozens were imprisoned and several were killed. The election gave the CPP a plurality of votes, but results, especially in towns, where voting could not be dictated by local authorities, indicated that the party did not enjoy widespread popular support. Prince Ranariddh and another opposition candidate, Sam Rainsy, took refuge abroad and contested the outcome of the election. In November the CPP and FUNCINPEC reached an agreement whereby Hun Sen became sole prime minister and Ranariddh became president of the National Assembly. The parties formed a coalition government, dividing control over the various cabinet ministries. In early 1999 the constitution was amended to create a Senate, called for in the 1998 agreement. These signs that Cambodia’s political situation was stabilizing encouraged ASEAN to admit Cambodia to its membership a short time later.
Pol Pot died in 1998, and by early 1999 most of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and leaders had surrendered. Rebel troops were integrated into the Cambodian army. In 1999 two Khmer Rouge leaders were arrested and charged with genocide for their part in the atrocities.
Since the Paris Accords of 1991, Cambodia’s economic growth has depended on millions of dollars of foreign aid. Foreign interest in Cambodia has decreased, however, and the country has received diminishing economic assistance. This development, along with the continued lack of openness in Cambodian politics, has made Cambodia’s prospects for democratization dim, as well as its chances for sustained economic growth.
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