The Cambodian government’s suppression of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America broadcasts was front page news in The Cambodia Daily on August 29, 2017. (Hean Socheata | VOA Khmer)

Community Stories

Journalists Feel Like ‘Tall Trees’ Buffeted by Wind

A year ago, Morm Moniroth was one of the best-known voices in Cambodia, his trademark tenor booming out from Radio Free Asia’s nightly news broadcast as he reported on hot-button issues like border disputes, politics and court cases.

Today, he is a farmer, eking out a living on a small plot of land where he grows mangoes and lemons. He asked VOA Khmer not to reveal the location of his farm, for fear of being targeted by local authorities.

Moniroth’s decision to leave journalism for agriculture wasn’t a choice, but a necessity, he says. Amid an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and the media in Cambodia, Radio Free Asia (RFA) was hit by the Cambodian government with an enormous tax bill.

The radio station shut down its operations in the country, citing mounting intimidation against its reporters, but that did not satisfy the government, which declared it would be considered illegal for anyone to maintain any association with the organization.

Now, RFA’s former reporters and radio technicians – roughly 50 employees – are living in fear. Some are in hiding. Others have quit journalism and do not foresee a future in which they can return to their careers. Two of them are living out their colleagues’ worst nightmares: they were arrested in November and thrown into prison, accused of espionage for reasons the government has declined to explain.

“I devoted my life to my work,” Moniroth said. “Now I want to remain silent and live my life as an ordinary person. Being too well-known is like being a tall tree, first to be affected by the wind.”

Trees in the Wind

It is not just RFA that has felt the heat. In the months leading up to the country’s sixth general election, scheduled for July 29, press freedom has taken a severe hit. Journalists and media advocates say the current situation is the worst in memory, with many reporters self-censoring, leaving journalism for less contentious careers and in a few cases even fleeing the country.

The Cambodia Daily bannered a pull-no-punches headline in its last edition. (Cambodia Daily)

One of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, was forced to shut down in September after being hit with a $6.3 million tax bill from the government. Its crosstown rival, the Phnom Penh Post, was taxed so heavily that its Australian owner sold it in May to the owner of a public relations firm that has done work for Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the most recent World Press Freedom Index, released in May, Reporters Without Borders dropped Cambodia 10 places in its rankings, to 142nd out of 180 countries. The group said the decline was one of the steepest in the region, adding, “Cambodia seems dangerously inclined to take the same path as China after closing dozens of independent media outlets.”

“Political issues are like heat and the media is like ice,” said Phak Seangly, a reporter at the English-language Phnom Penh Post. Seangly has been with the Post for eight years, and says that the current political climate is the most difficult of his career.

His wife, Chhiev Hong, has begged him to stop doing journalism for the sake of their 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. Although Seangly wants to continue, he has become more tentative about publishing hard-hitting stories.

“I have many stories in hand, but the election is approaching, so we have to be careful and think of our safety,” he said. “No one prohibits us from reporting, but due to the situation, I feel that I need to step back from reporting critical issues.”

Pov Meta, the news editor for independent radio station Voice of Democracy (VOD), said his reporters have also become more cautious due to fear that they would get into trouble.

VOD has already faced pressure, with many of its stations abruptly taken off the air by the government in August last year, along with stations broadcasting VOA and RFA.

Just as troubling to Pov Meta is the fact that many sources who used to be unafraid to speak freely are now clamming up. He said this has been the first time in his career that he has faced so much fear among Cambodians about speaking out.

“They don’t dare to comment like before,” he said. “They just speak off the record, not on the record.”

In a statement issued in June, U.N. human rights experts said they were also seriously concerned about the media environment ahead of the July 29 national elections, citing a highly restrictive new code of conduct for journalists issued by the National Election Committee as well as various statements made by the government.

Among other restrictions, the code says that journalists cannot create “confusion and loss of confidence,” and are forbidden from expressing “personal opinion or prejudice,” provisions that press freedom groups said were worryingly vague.

“The prohibitions on the media in the code raise serious concerns relating to media freedoms,” the U.N. said. “These prohibitions use broad and imprecise terminology that could lead to sweeping restrictions on the media that would be incompatible with international standards.” (In defense of the code, the government said it was important to ensure “transparency and responsibility” in the news media.)

Similar rules were applied to journalists in advance of last year’s commune elections, with chilling consequences in at least one case.

Aun Pheap, a reporter who worked at The Cambodia Daily before it closed, is seeking political asylum in the United States. (Cambodia Daily)

Jail and Exile

Like his counterparts at RFA, Aun Pheap was riding high a year ago. The 54-year-old was a senior reporter at The Cambodia Daily, widely respected for his reporting on illegal logging, land grabs and issues facing ethnic minorities.

Then, on a trip to Ratanakiri province to report on the June 2017 commune elections, he and his reporting partner, Canadian journalist Zsombor Peter, were detained by police for asking villagers simple questions about their political preferences.

Although this is not against the law, local officials claimed that they were guilty of violating the National Election Committee’s pre-election rules. The two were ultimately charged with “incitement to a felony,” which can carry prison time of up to two years.

Peter left the country permanently, while Pheap fled to Bangkok in October and was granted U.N. refugee status in January. He has resettled in the U.S., but is still waiting for his wife and children to receive permission to join him. Until then, they are living a bare-bones existence in Thailand.

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, journalists formerly with Radio Free Asia (RFA), arrive in a police vehicle for a bail hearing at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on April 19, 2018. (Samrang Pring | Reuters)

Even more disturbing is the plight of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, the ex-RFA reporters jailed in November last year for reasons that remain unclear.

The government has accused them of “espionage,” but has provided no evidence for the claim. It has also claimed that they had continued to work covertly for the radio station, but has not explained whether or how that constitutes espionage. Amnesty International has called the charges “trumped up.”

Sothearin’s wife, Lam Chantha, said her husband stopped working for RFA as soon as its Cambodian bureau closed and that she could not imagine why he was jailed, other than in retaliation for his previous journalistic work.

“I think he reported the truth and it affected someone,” she said.

“Since my husband has been in trouble, I can’t even sleep,” she said. “I am concerned about him and don’t know who can help him. I am not educated and he’s been accused and I don’t know when he will be released.”

Local journalists have been especially shaken by the plight of Sothearin and Chhin and the suffering their imprisonment has caused their families.

Chhiev Hong, the wife of Post reporter Seangly, said the situation made her frightened for her husband’s safety.

“I am terribly worried about him. We are worried about his safety when he comes home late at night. And if he goes to a provincial area, I can’t even sleep, waiting up for him, whatever time he comes back,” she said.

Pov Meta, of Voice of Democracy, said the fear of going to jail like Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin was affecting his team’s work.

“Journalists are scared of reporting sensitive stories,” he said.

Yeang Sothearin (Left) and Uon Chhin (Right). (Radio Free Asia)

A Push to be ‘King of Facebook’

In May 2017, when Southeast Asian leaders gathered with foreign investors, bankers and financial experts for the World Economic Forum in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly dressed down reporters from The Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia for being too critical of him and his government.

The Cambodia Daily was “opposing me all the time,” he said, while Radio Free Asia was “radio against the government.”

Now, just over a year later, and shortly before the critical July 29 election, both outlets have been forced to shut down in Cambodia. Media experts say this is not a coincidence.

The prime minister and his government have long had a tendency to see independent media “as an arm of the opposition,” said Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” who spent years as a journalist based in Phnom Penh.

Strangio said the recent increase in pressure on independent media appeared orchestrated to eliminate sources of information ahead of the July 29 elections, which the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has virtually guaranteed it will win by dissolving its closest competitor, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

The media crackdown kicked into gear shortly after the 2017 commune elections, in which the CNRP posted a strong showing, garnering 46 percent of the popular vote. The CPP still won the majority of commune council seats, but the results indicated that the opposition party would be a strong challenger to the CPP in the national elections.

“I think it speaks to the government’s paranoia as to how the July 29 election will play out – even absent the CNRP – as well as representing its final reckoning with the independent forces unleashed by the Paris peace settlement in the 1990s,” Strangio said of the media crackdown.

In addition to suppressing traditional media that is not pro-government, the CPP has made a push to dominate the internet, which the CNRP used to its advantage during the 2013 elections, attracting many young people through its mastery of platforms like Facebook.

The government has ordered internet service providers to block The Cambodia Daily’s website, and in May announced the formation of an inter-ministerial task force “to prevent the spread of information that can cause social chaos and threaten national security.”

A number of Cambodian citizens have been arrested or detained for making political statements on Facebook, including several people who fell prey to a new lese-majeste law that criminalizes criticism of the king. Sharing information about a CNRP-spearheaded initiative to boycott the election has also been declared illegal.

Hun Sen, on the other hand, has enjoyed undiminished free speech, including hours of political orations that he regularly broadcasts via his Facebook page, Samdech Hun Sen, Cambodian Prime Minister, during which he makes promises and blasts his opponents. These opinions are then duly shared by pro-government news sites and ruling party officials.

Instead of using independent media to find out what is happening in Cambodia, the premier now turns to Facebook to communicate with both his subordinates and members of the public, whom he has encouraged to file complaints to him using the social media site.

The premier’s Facebook page also brims with photographs of him posing with garment workers and students, or relaxing at home with his growing brood of grandchildren, in a seeming effort to make him seem more approachable to Cambodia’s young and increasingly tech-savvy population, 40 percent of whom are avid Facebook users.

“Paralleling his offline consolidation of power, Hun Sen also reinforced his position as Cambodia’s king of Facebook during the last eight months,” said Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a lecturer at Lund University in Sweden who specializes in Cambodian politics.

But it is unclear whether these Facebook activities are doing much to improve Hun Sen’s public image. Judging from the results of the June elections, “the benefit has been minimal,” Strangio said.

“No amount of Facebook spin can replace economic and politics reforms designed to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Cambodian people.”

Khem Sreymom, a 38-year-old former garment worker in Phnom Penh, said she was not interested in following news via the prime minister’s Facebook page and missed broadcasts from RFA and other shuttered media outlets.

“When they had the radio, I could listen,” she said. “It was easy to turn on. I don’t follow news like before, now that it is on Facebook. Sometimes, I miss the programs. When I listened to RFA news, I knew about social issues, injustices, violations and abuses of the law. News that the government-affiliated media doesn’t report, RFA reported.”

San Sel is a onetime RFA reporter based in Phnom Penh. Now working in marketing, he worries about what limited media options will mean to Cambodians. (Khan Sokummono | VOA Khmer)

San Sel, another former RFA reporter, took a job in marketing after the crackdown, and is not sure he will ever be able to return to journalism. His career may have taken a hit, but his biggest fear is that the clampdown on media will cause fewer new ideas to be shared and constrict social development in Cambodia.

When press freedom is dead, “freedom of speech of the people is also affected,” he said.

“When there is little independent news, few new ideas are formed. Ideas are small,” he said, adding, “Is this a good or a bad idea for our society?”

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