A solider rests in a hammock nearby a newly established base camp in Smarch village of Siem Reap province’s Tram Sasar commune, on Dec. 21, 2017. Although hundreds of soldiers registered to vote there in September, only a few were present at the camp in December. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

Community Stories

Ready, Aim, Vote

This tiny, dust-swept hamlet in the middle of nowhere would seem to have very little military strategic value. But for several days in September, hundreds of Cambodian soldiers streamed in.

The soldiers told locals they had been sent from neighboring Oddar Meanchey province to set up a new military base. But most of them left shortly after they arrived. Only around a dozen men remained to staff the brand-new base, which is little more than a corrugated-metal shack erected behind a dried-up rice field.

This is because their purpose was not to defend the nation or its borders. Instead, the soldiers came to register to vote and “defend the election,” according to Tram Sasar’s chief of police, Eum Yun.​

Camouflage uniforms and accessories hang inside the makeshift base camp in Tram Sasar commune of Srey Snam district on Dec. 21, 2017

Camouflage uniforms and accessories hang inside the makeshift base camp in Tram Sasar commune of Srey Snam district on Dec. 21, 2017 Narin/VOA Khmer

Profile photo of Prem Buth.

“They are stationed here to prepare to defend the next election in 2018.”

A rice field near a new military camp in rural Tram Sasar commune, Siem Reap province, where 1,430 new voters registered in September, many of them soldiers who later returned to their home bases in neighboring Oddar Meanchey province. (Julia Wallace/VOA Khmer)

The soldiers arrived just in time to establish their residence for the upcoming national election, scheduled for July 2018. Voter rolls were open between September 1 and November 9 last year. During that period, 1,430 new arrivals registered to vote in Tram Sasar, swelling the remote rural commune’s voting population by 56.3%. (The average increase nationwide over the same period was just 6.4%.)

Map of Cambodia showing communes with unusually large increases to the voter lists.

This map shows communes in Cambodia with noticeable changes in voter registration. The most dramatic changes of losses and increases in voter registration occurred in Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, and Preah Vihear provinces. Less noticeable changes in other parts of the country can be explained by recent demographic patterns. Data source: Cambodia's National Election Committee. (Michael Dickison/Julia Wallace for VOA Khmer)

This map shows communes in Cambodia's northwestern Siem Reap province that experienced the highest increases in voter registrations.

(Michael Dickison/Julia Wallace for VOA Khmer)

​“Yes, there is registration from the soldiers,” Eum Yun said. “They came to protect here, so they have to register here.”

He confirmed that he had personally approved the registration of the hundreds of military personnel who arrived in Tram Sasar in September as new voters, along with many of their family members. He said there were no soldiers living in the area before.

“They are stationed here to prepare to defend the next election in 2018,” he said.

This graphic showing voter increases in Cambodia's 1,646 communes highlight Siem Reap communes as clear outliers.

(Michael Dickison/Julia Wallace for VOA Khmer)

Marching Ahead

In a country whose ruling party has dissolved its primary opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), “election defense” may seem like overkill. But the CNRP almost won the last national election in 2013, when, days before the vote, Cambodia yielded to international pressure and allowed opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return from exile to campaign. Five years later, registering soldiers looks a lot like a defensive move made by a government determined to retain the veneer of electoral legitimacy, even as it has overseen a large-scale crackdown on dissent over the past six months that has drawn international condemnation and cuts in aid from the United States and the European Union.

Although Cambodia is nominally a democracy, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has held power in some form since 1979 and has near-total control over the country’s military, as well as the police force, court system and most other state institutions. A VOA investigation has revealed that the influx of soldiers into Tram Sasar commune was part of a much larger movement of voters into northern Siem Reap province during the 70-day registration period in 2017, many of whom appear to be military personnel and their families. Nearly 6,000 people arrived from the highly militarized northern provinces of Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear, of whom almost 90% were men.

Multiple communes in northern Siem Reap saw large spikes in voter registration, far exceeding the national average, that cannot be explained by any known settlement patterns.

In Srei Snam district, where Tram Sasar is located, two other military bases were also established during the election registration period, according to Ho Chhin, who served as a district official until November, when the opposition party was dissolved and he lost his job.

Those bases were located in Klaing Hay and Chroy Neang Nguon communes, which also saw large spikes in voter registration last year: 31.4% and 38.9%, respectively. Another commune, Moung, had a pre-existing military base known as Base Station 41, and had a 33.1% increase in registered voters. The district’s two remaining communes, Sleng Spean and Brei, both registered new voters at approximately double the national average.

This is not the first evidence of politically motivated troop movements in the area. During the June 2017 local elections, the Phnom Penh Post reported that around 800 soldiers from Preah Vihear province were trucked into Ta Siem district in northern Siem Reap to vote there. Multiple former opposition officials from Siem Reap who spoke to VOA said that they had received sporadic reports of soldiers voting in the June commune elections, but that many more soldiers had arrived during the September registration period.

“If they came here for election defense, why not on Election Day? And there are police, military police. Why soldiers?”

A provision in Cambodia’s election law allows soldiers to register in areas they are assigned to guard on Election Day, but under no circumstances should hundreds or thousands of soldiers be needed to protect rural polling stations, Ho Chhin said.

“They came here for registration,” he said. “If they came here for election defense, why not on Election Day? And there are police, military police. Why soldiers?”​

soldier rests in a hammock at the newly established military camp

A soldier rests in a hammock at the newly established military camp in Smarch village of Siem Reap province’s Tram Sasar commune on Dec. 21, 2017. Although hundreds of soldiers registered to vote there in September, only a few were present at the camp in December. (Julia Wallace/VOA Khmer)

Srei Snam’s governor, Neak Nerun, grew angry when asked by a VOA journalist about the appearance of multiple new military camps in his district.

“I am wondering why you, VOA, are curious about the camps in the communes. Are you the enemy of the soldiers? Camps can be anywhere. It is under the Ministry of National Defense. Is it wrong to have the soldier camps in the communes?”

Defending the Election

According to an analysis of the most recent National Election Committee (NEC) voter rolls, at least 5,882 new voters flowed into northern Siem Reap province in September and October from their previous homes in Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear, both sparsely populated provinces along the Thai border with a heavy military presence.

This graphic shows thousands of voter transfers recorded from heavily militarized Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces to Siem Reap province in Cambodia.

This graphic shows thousands of voter transfers recorded from heavily militarized Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces to Siem Reap province in Cambodia. Data source: Cambodia's National Election Committee. (Michael Dickison/Julia Wallace for VOA Khmer)

There are six parliamentary seats up for grabs in Siem Reap, a large province in Cambodia’s northwest, while Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear have only one each. In the registration period that opened in September, Siem Reap province gained the highest number of new voters nationwide, nearly 42,000 people in total.

Siem Reap, like much of the northwest, was once solidly in the government’s camp, with the ruling CPP garnering 61% of the popular vote in nationwide local elections in 2012. But by the following year’s national election, it had fallen to 50%, edged out in many areas by the new CNRP, which was formed by a merger between two smaller opposition parties and galvanized massive support.

Ou Virak, a political analyst who heads the Future Forum, a local think tank, said the ruling party’s “serious drop” in popularity in Siem Reap was part of a broader phenomenon across Cambodia’s west, where many villages have been hollowed out by mass migration of young people seeking work in neighboring Thailand. Many of the farmers who remain are struggling with debt and low crop prices, while increasing access to information via smartphones and news from Thailand means that geographically isolated rural voters no longer reflexively vote for the CPP, Ou Virak said.

After almost being knocked out of power in 2013, the CPP scrambled to reestablish its dominance, ordering officials to “scrub themselves clean” of corruption and be more responsive to voters, while simultaneously cracking down on dissent. The party also established “working groups” to get out the vote in every province, headed by senior party figures. Despite an ostensible ban on politicking by military officials, the person placed in charge of the CPP’s efforts in Siem Reap was Defense Minister Tea Banh, a four-star army general.

In a speech in Siem Reap in May last year, General Banh told CPP members that they “absolutely must win the commune election.” Two weeks later, however, the CPP’s share of the popular vote in Siem Reap fell to 39%. The ruling party did manage to win the popular vote nationwide, but by just a hair above 50%.

In August and September, the CPP began taking steps that would lead to the formal elimination of its main political opposition. The CNRP’s popular president, Kem Sokha, was arrested on September 4, accused of colluding with the United States to overthrow the government. Finally, in mid-November, the CNRP was dissolved altogether by the CPP-stacked Supreme Court, and the government declared membership in the party illegal.

During the voter registration period, however, this outcome was still far from certain. What was clear was simply that the CPP was not doing as well as it had hoped to in Siem Reap and many other areas of the country.

Although it is not known precisely how many soldiers registered to vote in Siem Reap in 2017, there is evidence that thousands did. Of the nearly 6,000 voters who transferred from Cambodia’s border provinces into Siem Reap, 87.66% were men, compared to approximately 47% of registered voters nationwide. Several areas where the new arrivals registered are now heavily male. Nine polling stations in Siem Reap are over 95% male, including one station where 612 men and no women are registered, and another that registered the maximum 750 new voters but only three women.

Diep Yat, who was the deputy chief of Tram Sasar commune for the CNRP until the party was dissolved, said he personally witnessed hundreds of soldiers moving in from Oddar Meanchey to register there.

He said he had recognized some of them as members of his extended family and acquaintances who are members of the military.

“I asked them why they came to register here, and they said their boss ordered it. Before, they voted in a commune in Oddar Meanchey.”

Pang Sok is a former CNRP official in Klaing Hay commune, which also saw an unusually high increase in new voter registrations, around five times more than the national average.

Serving as an election registration observer, he said he witnessed several hundred soldiers and their families register in Klaing Hay, but when he attempted to report the alleged fraud to the National Election Committee, which is dominated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, he was brushed off.

On August 14, shortly before the soldiers began arriving in Tram Sasar, the NEC issued a declaration requiring local police chiefs to approve residential transfers for voter registration.

Most police chiefs are appointed by the ruling party, while commune chiefs, who had previously been in charge of the certification process, are democratically elected. The new rule allowed police officials like Eum Yun, who was appointed by the CPP in 1998, to gain control over the voter registration.

“I observed that the soldiers would come, go to the commune chief’s office, get a letter, immediately register to vote, and then go home,” Pang Sok said. “First the soldier would get a kind of letter certified by the commune police.”

He said some of the soldiers did not even know the names of the villages where they were registering as residents.

“I did ask the NEC about that and they just said, ‘This is the procedure. They have a letter,’ ” Pang Sok said.

“I was ordered to come here to protect people. I don’t know why.”

Hang Puthea, the NEC’s spokesman, confirmed that a number of soldiers had registered in Siem Reap, but denied this constituted electoral fraud. Instead, he said the military presence was necessary for “election defense,” echoing the term used by the commune police chief.

“There are some military registrations over there, but there are no irregularities,” he said. “We know that the Ministry of National Defense assigned them to register over there for election defense.”

He said he did not know the exact number of soldiers who had moved to register in Siem Reap, but doubted it was in the hundreds.

“Do you have the evidence or witnesses?” he asked. “You can show it to the NEC. Some people just said this.”

“I was ordered to come here to protect people. I don’t know why.”

An AK-47 assault rifle and camouflage accessories hang inside the makeshift military base camp.

An AK-47 assault rifle and camouflage accessories hang inside the makeshift military base camp in Srey Snam district's Tram Sasar commune on Dec. 21, 2017. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

During a visit by VOA journalists to Tram Sasar commune in December, locals pointed out the location of the new military base, supposedly home to hundreds of people, in a forested area behind a school and a rice field.

There, in a clearing, an army wife was preparing a large cauldron of rice porridge for the soldiers based there. She said that there were only around 10 of them, not the hundreds of new residents the voter registration rolls would suggest.

“They came here during the election registration,” explained the woman, Tuon Sreylin, 34. “They just come in, come out, and around 10 people at a time stay here. The military register for voting here.”

Tuon Sreylin said that she, too, had been told to transfer her voter registration to Siem Reap, despite maintaining a permanent residence in Oddar Meanchey, where she had left her children with their grandparents.

“After the election we will go back,” she said.

In a wooded area nearby, a handful of soldiers were lolling in hammocks, napping or playing with their smartphones. Only their commander was sitting upright, tucking into a spread of Khmer stews and pickles at a desk in the compound’s main structure, a ramshackle building made mostly of corrugated metal. Behind him was the bed where he slept, decorated with Minnie Mouse sheets.

Man seated at table eats lunch.

The commander of the military camp in Tram Sasar commune eats lunch on Dec. 21, 2017. “I was ordered to come here to protect people," he said. "I don’t know why.” (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

He declined to give his name, but confirmed that he was in charge of the encampment, and that the soldiers were stationed there “temporarily.” He said the number of soldiers in the area was confidential and could not be revealed.

“We came here to protect people and maintain social order,” he said. “I was ordered to come here to protect people. I don’t know why.”

At that moment, Commune Police Chief Eum Yun’s head popped out from behind a pillar, where he had apparently been hiding to observe the interview. Seeing that he had been spotted, he emerged. He had combed and slicked back his hair and donned his official uniform in the hour since VOA reporters had visited him at his own office, where he had been wearing rumpled plainclothes.

He told reporters that his “boss” had ordered him to follow them, determine whom they were speaking to, and bring them to the police station. There, they were extensively photographed and detained for around an hour. Finally, they were allowed to leave after being warned to cease conducting interviews in the area.

“We are afraid you came here to interview other political parties,” Eum Yun said.

People riding a motorcycle under a campaign sign.

A sign bearing the Cambodian People's Party logo and the faces of Prime Minister on the road to Tram Sasar commune in Srey Snam district, Siem Reap province. Dec. 21, 2017. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

A sign bearing the Cambodian People’s Party logo and the faces of Prime Minister on the road to Tram Sasar commune in Srey Snam district, Siem Reap province. Dec. 21, 2017. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

According to Cambodia’s Press Law, it is not illegal to conduct interviews with villagers or members of political parties, and prior permission from authorities is not required.

Pol Saroeun, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, declined to comment on military voter registration or troop transfers.

“[What you] know, report. No need to ask me. I will not tell about this since you are not my boss,” he said.

His boss, Defense Minister Tea Banh, could not be reached for comment.

Ou Virak, the political analyst, said the CPP needed to focus on addressing the issues affecting voters in Siem Reap, rather than adding more of them. If soldiers are truly being brought into the province to register, the government risked alienating villagers even further, he said.

“In the short term they might be able to win the number, but if they continue this way they will not be able to win the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

“Even if they don’t have the opposition to challenge them and there is no chance they will not win the election, at the end of the day they still need legitimacy and the mandate of the people.”

Pang Sok, the ex-commune official, said many of his constituents had observed soldiers registering to vote in their area, but could not do anything about it. He himself felt powerless, although he had an official position.

“I feel that it is unfair to the ordinary people,” he said.

“They just do whatever they want.”

This story originally appeared on VOAcambodia.com. (April 2, 2018)

Cambodia (1953 - 2018)


July 30, 2018

International community calls Cambodia's vote a “setback to democracy”

The United States says it will take further action against the government of Cambodia following a landslide victory for the ruling party. The European Union, Canada and Australia also condemn the election.

July 29, 2018

Cambodia set to become one-party state

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party says it now controls all 125 seats in the National Assembly after an election slammed by rights groups as a sham due the lack of a viable opposition,

July 29, 2018

Polls open in Cambodia's sixth national election

Cambodians head to the polls for an election from which the government has banned the only viable opposition party.

July 28, 2018

Government blocks 15 independent news sites over poll “disruption”

The Cambodian government orders internet service providers (ISPs) to block the websites of 15 news websites of independent outlets including Voice of America for two days before and during the country’s election.

July 27, 2018

Government fines former opposition officials over “clean finger” campaign

Five former CNRP officials in Battambang province are found guilty of obstructing the vote and fined $2,500 each over a Facebook post supporting an election boycott campaign.

July 27, 2018

Election campaign ends as Cambodians prepare to vote

Cambodian political parties wind up their campaigning ahead of a general election expected to be an easy victory for the ruling party.

July 25, 2018

U.S. House passes Cambodia sanctions bill

U.S. House of Representatives passes the Cambodia Democracy Act, paving the way for sanctions to be imposed against members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s inner circle.

July 25, 2018

Japan opts out of sending election monitors to Cambodia

Japan says it won't send election monitors to Cambodia for the July 29 vote even though Tokyo, a major donor to the Southeast Asian nation, has sent observers to many previous elections.

July 22, 2018

Cambodia threatens legal action against non-voters

The government orders fines or even the arrest of people who uploads images on social media as part of an opposition-organized campaign to boycott the vote.

July 10, 2018

Cambodian government institutions face cyberattack

Cyberattackers are caught hacking key Cambodian government institutions in what is strongly believed to be a coordinated Chinese government assault ahead of the July 29 national elections, according to an investigation by FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm.

July 7, 2018

Election campaign kicks off

Electioneering kicks off for the July 29 national elections. Twenty political parties are registered to participate.

June 27, 2018

50,000 observers to monitor July election, NEC says

Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) says 50,000 observers -- some from China, Myanmar and Singapore -- will monitor July 29 election.

June 20, 2018

U.N. calls political climate in Cambodia “not conducive to a free and fair election”

At the U.N. Human Rights Council, New Zealand and other nations issue a statement calling on the Cambodian government to reverse course, saying the current political environment in Cambodia is not “conducive to holding free, fair and genuine national elections.”

June 12, 2018

U.S. sanctions Hun Sen’s top bodyguard

United States imposes sanctions on Hing Bun Heang, the head of Hun Sen’s bodyguards, citing human rights abuses.

May 28, 2018

Government forms task forces to monitor online content ahead of July election

The government issues an order that it will work with telecommunication firms to monitor and control online news deemed to cause “instability,” as part of the government’s crackdown ahead of July 29 election.

May 24, 2018

NEC sets controversial Journalist Code of Conduct on election coverage

Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) issues a controversial code of conduct for journalists covering the July 29 election. It includes a ban on asking detailed questions about results.

May 15, 2018

20 political parties registered

Despite dissolution of CNRP, 20 political parties, including the ruling CPP, register to participate in July 29 election.

May 15, 2018

Election monitoring group backs out of observing July election

The respected Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) says it will not observe and monitor the July election, citing the Cambodian government’s accusation against the group and other organizations in promoting a “color revolution” in Cambodia.

May 9, 2018

U.N. calls for release of Kem Sokha

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the International Federation for Human Rights issues a statement demanding the immediate release of Kem Sokha, leader of the dissolved opposition CNRP party, calling his imprisonment “inhumane” and “shameful.”

May 5, 2018

Phnom Penh Post sold

The country’s last remaining independent English-language newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, is sold to a Malaysian investor whose company has links to Hun Sen.

May 4, 2018

PM Hun Sen threatens legal measure against election boycott

Prime Minister Hun Sen describes Sam Rainsy’s call for an election boycott as “a violation of electoral law.”

April 8, 2018

Sam Rainsy calls for July election boycott

Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy calls on his supporters and voters to boycott the July election.

Jan 2018

Sam Rainsy launches the CNRM

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy launches the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), which he envisions as keeping the CNRP “alive” from abroad. He says it “cannot be dissolved” because it is not registered with the government in Cambodia. Sam Rainsy said the movement's plan includes ensuring free and fair elections in Cambodia in July.

Nov 16, 2017

Supreme Court orders CNRP dissolution

The Supreme Court dissolves the CNRP, a move that causes some opposition members to join Hun Sen's ruling CPP, while opposition leaders flee the country or are forced out of politics.

Oct 3, 2017

Mu Sochua flees country

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua flees Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatens to arrest opposition politicians in the wake of Kem Sokha's arrest in September.

Sept 2017

RFA ceases operations in Cambodia

Radio Free Asia ceases operations in Cambodia after nearly 20 years, citing the government’s crackdown on media. Dozens of radio affiliates in Cambodia that sold airtime to RFA and VOA are shut down, with the government citing licensing issues. Other remaining licensed radio affiliates stop broadcasting RFA and VOA content.

Sept 4, 2017

Cambodia Daily newspaper shuts down

The independent Cambodia Daily newspaper announces it will cease operations in Cambodia after 24 years when it is slapped with a $6.3 million tax bill, which its publishers said was politically motivated and impossible to pay.

Sept 3, 2017

Kem Sokha arrested

Opposition leader Kem Sokha is arrested at his Phnom Penh home for alleged treason. The government accuses him of conspiring with the U.S. to bring down the Cambodian government. Prime Minister Hun Sen warns the CNRP not to defend Kem Sokha at the risk of being dissolved.

Aug 23, 2017

National Democratic Institute halts operations

The Cambodian government forces the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute to halt its operations in Cambodia, saying the group is not legally registered.

July 10, 2017

National Assembly bars parties from affiliating with criminals

The National Assembly passes bill barring political parties from having any formal affiliation with convicted criminals.

June 2017

Fourth commune council elections

The CPP wins the majority of seats, but loses ground to the CNRP.

March 2017

Kem Sokha succeeds Sam Rainsy

Kem Sokha succeeds Sam Rainsy as the CNRP president.

Feb 11, 2017

Sam Rainsy resigns from CNRP

Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled leader of the CNRP, resigns in an attempt to save the party from dissolution after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatens to change the law to enable the government to dissolve parties with officials who have committed criminal offenses.

Dec 2, 2016

King Sihamoni pardons Kem Sokha

King Norodom Sihamoni pardons Kem Sokha, as requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sept 9, 2016

Kem Sokha sentenced to five months in prison

Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentences Kem Sokha to five months in prison over a case involving prostitution charges that are believed to be politically motivated. Kem Sokha does not appear in court.

July 10, 2016

Government critic Kem Ley killed

Kem Ley, a well-known political activist and government critic, is shot dead in broad daylight at a petrol station in central Phnom Penh, in what police say is a personal dispute over money, a claim his wife denies.

June 2016

Kem Sokha in hiding

Kem Sokha goes into hiding at the CNRP headquarters to avoid arrest after being accused of procuring a prostitute.

April 2016

Five officials arrested for alleged involvement in the case against Kem Sokha

Four officials with the human rights group Adhoc, as well as the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee, are arrested for involvement with the alleged prostitution case against Kem Sokha.

Nov 16, 2015

Sam Rainsy stripped of position, immunity

The government strips Sam Rainsy of his lawmaker status and immunity while the opposition leader is traveling outside Cambodia. The move paves the way for arresting him in connection with a defamation case.

Oct 2015

Mob beats two CNRP lawmakers

Pro-government mob beats two CNRP lawmakers in front of the National Assembly; the mob demands that National Assembly Vice President Kem Sokha step down.

July 13, 2015

National Assembly OKs crackdown on civil society groups

Cambodia's National Assembly approves a controversial law that critics say gives authorities sweeping power to crack down on civil society groups challenging the government.

April 2015

Bipartisan election committee formed

An overhauled National Election Committee, created by bipartisan agreement, moves to spearhead electoral reform.

July 22, 2014

CNRP, Hun Sen strike deal

The CNRP strikes deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen, ending yearlong boycott of parliament.

July 16, 2014

Opposition leaders charged with 'insurrection'

The Cambodian government charges six opposition politicians with leading an “insurrection” after a clash with security forces that prevented opposition supporters from rallying in a public park.

Jan 2014

Military police crack down on CNRP

Military police crack down on CNRP and garment worker protest, ending months of street demonstrations that leave at least four people dead.

Sept-Dec 2013

CNRP supporters protest election results

The CNRP and its supporters hold mass protests in Phnom Penh over the contested election results, calling for Hun Sen’s resignation and an election restaging.

July 28, 2013

Fifth national elections

Cambodia holds its fifth national elections, and the opposition CNRP wins 55 of 123 seats in the National Assembly. The CPP wins the remaining 68 seats. The CNRP rejects the results and launches a high-profile boycott of parliament.

July 2013

Sam Rainsy returns ahead of elections

After King Norodom Sihamoni pardons Sam Rainsy at Hun Sen’s request, the opposition leader returns to Cambodia days before the national elections.

Oct 15, 2012

King Sihanouk dies

King Norodom Sihanouk dies of a heart attack. He was 89 years old, and had spent most of his time after abdicating in 2004 outside Cambodia, favoring Beijing and Pyongyang.

July 17, 2012

CNRP was established in Manila

Top officials from the SRP and HRP meet in Manila to finalize their merger into a new party: the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

June 2012

Third commune elections

Cambodia holds third commune elections and the CPP wins 61.8 percent of communes.

Sept 2010

Sam Rainsy flees Cambodia

Sam Rainsy flees the country again, facing charges of disinformation and falsifying maps after criticizing the government’s handling of the Vietnamese border demarcation.

July 2008

CPP wins majority in national elections

Hun Sen's CPP wins a majority of votes in the national elections.

July 2007

Kem Sokha establishes HRP

Kem Sokha, who founded the human rights organization Cambodian Center for Human Rights in 2002, establishes the Human Rights Party (HRP).

April 2007

Second commune elections

Cambodia holds its second commune elections. The CPP wins 98.2 percent of communes, while the SRP wins 1.7 percent.

Oct 2006

FUNCINPEC ousts Ranariddh

The royalist FUNCINPEC party ousts Prince Ranariddh as president following an accusation by Hun Sen that the prince was appointing unqualified individuals to political positions.Ranariddh was sentenced by the lower court to 18 months in prison and fined $150,000 for alleging breach of trust for buying land with $3.6 million taken from the sale of FUNCINPEC headquarters.

March 2006

Ranariddh resigns, flees to France

Prince Ranariddh resigns as president of the National Assembly after Hun Sen fires then-Co-Minister of the Interior Norodom Sirivudh and Co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chay. Ranariddh flees to France.

Feb 2006

Sam Rainsy receives royal pardon

Rainsy returns to Cambodia after months of exile to avoid imprisonment on a defamation conviction over his criticism of the government’s border policy with Vietnam. He joins with the CPP to change the electoral law to require a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority, leaving the royalist FUNCIPEC party less important in the coalition government.

Oct 2005

Under pressure, king signs border treaty

Hun Sen threatens to abolish Cambodia’s monarchy as King Sihamoni delays in signing a controversial border treaty with Vietnam, Cambodia's historic enemy. The king agrees to sign the treaty.

Oct 2004

Norodom Sihamoni becomes king

Norodom Sihamoni succeeds his father King Norodom Sihanouk after a surprise abdication. Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh endorse Sihamoni.

July 27, 2003

CPP wins national elections

Hun Sen re-elected as prime minister.

Feb 3, 2002

First commune elections held

Cambodia holds its first-ever commune elections. The CPP wins a majority of seats on local administrative bodies known as commune councils, and thus appoints the majority of commune chiefs.

Nov 1998

Hun Sen and Ranariddh agree to form a coalition government

Hun Sen and Ranariddh agree to form a coalition government, allowing Hun Sen to remain as the prime minister and Prince Ranariddh to become the president of the National Assembly. FUNCINPEC’s agreement with CPP left the SRP as the country’s main opposition party.

July 26, 1998

CPP wins national elections

Hun Sen's CPP wins a majority of seats in national elections, followed by FUNCINPEC and the SRP.

March 1998

Prince Ranariddh returns

Prince Ranariddh returns to Cambodia to run in the national elections.

July 1997

Troops clash in Phnom Penh; Prince Ranariddh exiled

Troops aligned with the CPP and the FUNCINPEC clash in Phnom Penh after public arguments between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh become increasingly heated. The prince goes into exile and is ousted from his position a month later.


Sam Rainsy founds KNP

Sam Rainsy founded the the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP).

June 1993

FUNCINPEC and CPP form coalition government

With King Norodom Sihanouk's intervention, FUNCINPEC and the CPP agree to form a coalition government, with Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister and Hun Sen as second prime minister.

May 23-28, 1993

First post-war elections held

Cambodia holds first post-Khmer Rouge-era presidential elections under the auspices of the U.N. Hun Sen’s Cambodia People's Party, a linear descendant of the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party, which gave birth to the Khmer Rouge, loses to Norodom Ranariddh’s royalist FUNCINPEC.

Oct 23, 1991

Paris Accords Accords signed

Nineteen nations sign the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending Cambodia's civil war.

Sept 26, 1989

Vietnam leaves Cambodia

Vietnamese troops leave Cambodia after a decade of occupation.

Jan 14, 1985

Hun Sen becomes prime minister

National Assembly appoints Hun Sen prime minister.

Jan 7, 1979

Khmer Rouge regime ends

A group of former Khmer Rouge soldiers, including Cambodia's future prime minister, Hun Sen, end the Khmer Rouge regime. Backed by the Vietnamese military, the group liberates Cambodia and Vietnam sponsors formation of a new Cambodian government.

April 17, 1975

Khmer Rouge takeover Cambodia

The China-backed Khmer Rouge occupy Phnom Penh. Over the next three years, eight months and 20 days, the regime will cause the deaths of at least 1.7 million people.

March 1970

Coup topples Sihanouk

U.S.-backed Gen.Lon Nol leads coup that topples Sihanouk.

April 1960

King Suramarit dies

Sihanouk accepts role as head of state.

Sept 1955

Sihanouk becomes prime minister

King Sihanouk becomes prime minister after abdicating in favor of his father, Norodom Suramarit.

Nov 9, 1953

Cambodia gains independence

King Norodom Sihanouk declares Cambodia’s independence from France.



National Elections

Since 1993, Cambodia has held a national election every five years. Cambodian people aged 18 and above are eligible to vote for any political parties they like. The party that wins the majority of votes then nominates its members to the National Assembly. Today, there are 123 National Assembly seats, 24 provinces and the capital Phnom Penh. The majority party in the National Assembly forms the national government, provincial governments, select the prime minister and various ministers.

All nominations must be approved by the king. Since 1998, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has won each national election.

Commune Elections

As Cambodia stabilized and focused on institution building, it launched commune elections in 2002. Communes are the most local of administrative bodies, overseeing all the villages and their residents in a given area.

Commune elections are held every five years, and the political party that wins the majority selects the commune chief in that commune.

Commune chiefs work closely with the district governors addressing local issues such as sewage, roads, crimes, clean water, and electricity. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has occupied most of the commune seats nationwide since 2002.


Over the past two decades, at least two million Cambodian households in every one of Cambodia’s 22 provinces has obtained very small loans from microfinance institutions (MFIs) that provide cash to farmers, fishermen and others who need money to sustain their livelihood.

Without access to the MFIs, these Cambodians would have no access to credit.

Microloans are not unique to Cambodia. Muhammad Yunus started the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, loaning very small amounts of money to very poor women who needed to buy materials to produce the goods that they made and sold. He charged very low interest rates and the borrowers repaid in full at record rates. For example, in 2016 the microfinancing institution Opportunity International reported repayment rates of approximately 98.9 percent.

Yunus and the bank won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for developing microfinance and “their efforts to create economic and social development from below.” The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank Group, estimated that, as of 2014, more than 130 million people have directly benefited from microfinance-related operations.

In Cambodia, many of the MFIs are for-profit—although most Cambodians believe MFIs are government-run—and many borrowers are finding it punishing to pay back, for example, a $1,000 loan with a 3.5 percent monthly interest rate. It is particularly difficult for farmers whose profits are dictated by world commodity prices.

At the end of 2016, Cambodians collectively owed $3.1 billion to MFIs, according to a World Bank report, and 88 percent of borrowers live in impoverished rural areas. A 2017 “special circular” report prepared for the Cambodian Microfinance Association by the Mimosa Project – which studies microfinance over-indebtedness in developing countries – found “that the size of the loans granted by MFIs in the decade from 2004 to 2014 had grown at a rate four times the rate of the growth of incomes of the debtors receiving loans, a phenomenon it described as dangerous and unique to Cambodia,” the Phnom Penh Post reported.

Some small relief arrived in April 2017, when the government capped the allowable annual interest rate at 18 percent. But that locked-out those borrowing the smallest amounts, because MFIs found small loans ate up profits with administrative costs.

Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)

Originally established as the Marxist-Leninist Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party on June 28, 1951, the reformist Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has ruled Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge regime fell in January 1979. The CPP entered the first elections sponsored by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1993, but lost to FUNCINPEC, the royalist party. With King Norodom Sihanouk’s intervention, FUNCINPEC and the CPP agreed to form a coalition government in 1993, and Hun Sen became the co-prime minister. Hun Sen became the president of the CPP in June 2015.


CPP today marks 59 years since founding,” The Cambodian Daily

Political Parties and Politicians in Cambodia

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was founded on July 17, 2012 when Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party (HRP) and Sam Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) merged. Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister who founded an opposition party in 1995, was president and Kem Sokha, long a voice for political rights, as well as social and economic development, at village level, was the vice president.

The CNRP entered its first elections in 2013, and won 55 seats of the 123 places in the National Assembly.

On February 11, 2017, Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled president of the CNRP, resigned from his post in an attempt to save the party from dissolution after Hun Sen threatened to change the law to enable the government to dissolve parties whose officials had committed criminal offenses. Sam Rainsy had been convicted in absentia

In March 2017, Kem Sokha succeeded Sam Rainsy as the CNRP president. On September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh for alleged treason, accused by the government of conspiring with the United States to bring down the Cambodian government.

On November 16, 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the CNRP. Some opposition members joined the CPP, while many fled the country or were forced out of politics.


Political Parties and Politicians in Cambodia


National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) was founded in 1981 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as a movement against the Vietnam-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea government. In 1991, Prince Norodom Sihanouk handed over the movement to Prince Norodom Ranariddh. FUNCINPEC, an acronym from the party’s name in French, the language of Cambodia’s European colonizers from 1863 to 1953, became a political party in 1992.

FUNCINPEC participated in the national election sponsored by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1993. The party won the election, but Prime Minister Hun Sen refused to step down. With King Norodom Sihanouk’s intervention, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen agreed to form a coalition government, becoming co-prime ministers until 1997 when their personal animus erupted into July 1997 street fighting between armed forces loyal to Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh. Hun Sen’s forces won and the prince went into exile.


Political Parties and Politicians in Cambodia

Human Rights Party (HRP)

Human Rights Party (HRP) was founded on July 22, 2007 by Kem Sokha. The party entered its first Cambodian national elections in 2008, and won three seats out of 123 in the National Assembly.


Political Parties and Politicians in Cambodia

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) was originally founded in 1995 as the Khmer Nation Party by Sam Rainsy. The SRP won 15 seats in the National Assembly in Cambodia’s 1998 national elections. In the 2003 elections, the SRP won 22% of the votes, becoming the second-most popular party in the country after Hun Sen’s CPP.


Political Parties and Politicians in Cambodia

Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge also known as the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party took control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975. Under Pol Pot, they adopted a radical Maoist and Marxist-Leninist ideologies and wanted to transform Cambodia into a self-sufficient agrarian, classless society. The regime targeted professionals, intellectuals including teachers, Buddhist monks, anyone suspected of having ties to the former Cambodian government or foreign governments, and ethnic minorities. The regime forced people to move out of the cities to rural provinces where forced labor, malnutrition, disease, and mass executions killed approximately 1.7 million people or a quarter of the country’s population by the time the Vietnamese invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge on January 7, 1979.


The Cambodian Genocide