Election Day

Today is the national election where Cambodians vote for who will run the country for the next four years.  Yes, it’s the one day where each citizen gets their say in a free and fair system.

Yeah right.

After the Vietnamese brought down the Khmer Rouge, they put in place a puppet government run by Hun Sen, an ex Khmer Rouge soldier with a third grade education. He’s been the country’s Prime Minister for the last 28 years and, at 60 years old, plans on staying in office for another 10 years.   Let’s play a game where we think of other world leaders who held onto power for a really long time:


Fidel Castro

President and Prime Minister of Cuba
December 2, 1976 – February 24, 2008

Kim Il-Sung

Supreme Leader of North Korea & Eternal President of the Republic
9 September 1948 – 8 July 1994

Saddam Hussein

President of Iraq
16 July 1979 – 9 April 2003

Muammar Gaddafi

Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya
1 September 1969 – 23 August 2011

Hmmm. . . I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I THINK all of these guys have something in common.   Oh, that’s right. They’re all tyrannical, fascist dictators.

In the early 90s, the United Nations decided to inject $3 billion into Cambodia to help stabilize the country.  It was kind of like the international community’s pet project, and part of it was to have the country’s first free and fair election.  As you can imagine, Hun Sen wasn’t thrilled.  He had everything to lose since he was already in power.  Why would he want to put that in jeopardy by having an election?

His opponent was one of King Sihanouk’s sons, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who represented the the FUNCINPEC party, which is an acronym for the French translation of “National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia.”

Over 90% of Cambodia showed up to the 1993 election, and the Prince’s party won the majority over Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  According to Hun Sen, this clearly wasn’t a free and fair election and he demanded a do-over.  After some kicking and screaming, they settled on being co-prime ministers.

To avoid a major history lesson, I’ll simplify what happened over the next several years.  Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh didn’t like each other and, eventually, stopped speaking to each other.  This lead to a stand-off that came to a head in the form of a civil war in the late 90s.  Since then, Hun Sen has been Prime Minister.


My friend, Sara, and I used to sit around her apartment and vent about all of the frustrating aspects of Cambodia over a glass (or three) of wine.  Once, she asked our Khmer friend, Marry, why Hun Sen keeps getting elected.  Marry said that “his pockets are full.”  If someone new is elected, his pockets will be empty and he will take from the Cambodian people.

Later, I was talking to Lee about that conversation and he told me Hun Sen said that in a speech.  Yes, that’s right.  Part of his election platform is that he is rich and does not need to take any more from the people.


About Tavie Crockett

Like "Davy Crockett," but with a "T."
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3 Responses to Election Day

  1. You’ll never believe it but I was just in the process of writing a blog entry about The Cambodian election process and empty pockets, centred around Marry’s comment at the 2008 election about Hun Sen’s pockets already being full!

    Did you know there is a Cambodian proverb that says “Blame for error always lies with those who act: Those who do nothing, what do they have to be wrong about” ?

  2. Verona says:

    I must say, I honestly felt that this time around, Cambodia wasn’t really strong enough or established enough to be able to ‘afford’ a new leader. For exactly that reason, if someone new came to the scene they must fill their pockets and that would damage Cambodia much more than it’s current leader staying put for another 4years, no matter what his faults. Maybe next time, we’ll see.

    • Lee, maybe jokingly, said that there can’t be a new leader now because they’re rebuilding Monkey and a civil war will really put a damper on business.

      Here’s the thing: Hun Sen is still filling his pockets and directing foreign aid to his cronies. They can get away with this because they boast the importance of infrastructure (highways, bridges, etc.) while relying on NGOs to provide social services for Cambodian citizens. The UN did a report in the early aughts that showed there’s $500 million per year that’s unaccounted for — at the time that was all of the government’s intake via foreign aid.

      If leadership were to change, maybe (probably) they would steal money like Hun Sen (I can’t be difficult since 95% of transactions in this country are cash), but NGO social services to the citizens wouldn’t be affected and, honestly, I don’t see the country ever being stronger or more established than it is now without the civil unrest that a new leader would bring.

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