The 1993 constitution established a parliamentary monarchy with a 125-member parliament (National Assembly) and a 62-member Senate. The government is based on an absolute majority in parliament and controls the state administration down to the provinces and districts. The municipal level begins with the municipalities, whose councils, like the members of parliament, are elected every five years. Between 1993 and 2017 the political system was largely a formal democracy with strong autocratic influences. With the dissolution of the largest opposition party on November 16, 2017 and the parliamentary elections on July 29, 2018, the democratic experiment is considered to be failed sustainably. The party, which has ruled since 1979, has held all 125 seats in the National Assembly, provides 58 of 62 senators and six of the nine members of the Constitutional Council (three are appointed by the King), controls 1,644 of the 1,645 municipal councils, in which 95% of all members belong to the CPP, and provides almost all district and provincial councils.
The head of state
According to Constructmaterials.com, Cambodia looks back on a monarchical tradition stretching back over 1000 years. After the monarchy was abolished on October 9, 1970 under Lon Nol, it was re-established on September 24, 1993 when the current constitution came into force. Today Cambodia is formally an electoral parliamentary monarchy in which the king “rules but does not rule”. The king is elected for life. To be eligible, a candidate must be from the Royal Family, be at least 30 years old and descend from one of the former monarchs Ang Duong, Norodom or Sisowath. Similar to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, the king’s political rights are strictly limited. In addition to representative tasks, he primarily appoints the Prime Minister and the Royal Government, opens the constituent sessions of the two chambers of parliament and is allowed to pardon convicted criminals.
The first king after decades of war, civil war and genocide was Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated on October 7, 2004 and died on October 15, 2012 after an eventful life. Since October 14, 2004, his then 51-year-old son Norodom Sihamoni (official title: Preah Karona Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath) has been on the throne. Sihamoni was born on May 14, 1955 – his name is composed of the initial syllables of his parents Sihanouk and Monineath. He has one brother (who has already died) and 14 half-siblings. From 1962 he lived in Czechoslovakia, where he studied classical dance and music after finishing school. During the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge, Sihamoni returned to his parents in Phnom Penh in 1977. He remained there under house arrest until the Vietnamese invasion in late 1978, while most of his siblings fell victim to the killing of the Khmer Rouge. After teaching ballet for several years in France, Sihamoni was appointed Cambodian UNESCO Ambassador in 1993. Sihamoni is still unmarried and childless to this day.
The royal family still maintains an official website. Among other things, it contains an overview of the social and humanitarian activities and biographies of the royal family. Sihamoni is continuing the tradition of his father, who very actively communicated his activities and points of view via the Internet.
Sihamoni’s reign is strongly influenced by his reticent nature, the crisis of the royal house and the dominant position of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The last-mentioned aspect in particular allows the assumption that the king’s leeway is extremely limited and is indebted to the powerful prime minister at crucial moments. In addition, he keeps an unmistakable distance from the people and travels abroad more often for private or medical reasons. It is no secret that he did not actively seek to succeed his father. Some observers describe him as a prisoner in his palace- “sad, lonely and abandoned”. Others describe him as tired of office – but there is no suitable, undisputed successor. The future of the Cambodian monarchy has therefore been under discussion for years, especially in times of domestic political controversy.
The prime minister
Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen is one of the longest serving political leaders in the world and can look back on a long and in many ways unusual political career. Born in 1952 in Kampong Cham Province under the name Hun Bonal, he joined the Khmer Rouge at the age of 16. Like his eldest sons years later, Hun Sen began his career as a military officer; under the Khmer Rouge he commanded a regiment with a nominal strength of 2,000 soldiers at the age of 25. In 1977 Hun Sen, who had risen to lieutenant colonel, deserted to Vietnam and from there organized FUNSK on the liberation front the resistance to the Khmer Rouge. When Vietnamese troops overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979, he returned to Cambodia, first becoming foreign minister and then at the end of 1984, at the age of 32, the youngest head of government in the world.
After signing the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, Hun Sen was defeated by his royalist adversary Prince Norodom Ranariddh in 1993 in the UNTAC-organized elections to the constituent assembly. In a one-off form of power-sharing, Hun Sen then became second prime minister with practically equal rights alongside the prince, whom he ousted from office in a violent coup just four years later. Confirmed in the subsequent elections in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Hun Sen has also enormously expanded his sphere of influence within his own party.
After the parliamentary elections in July 2013, in which the CPP performed significantly worse than five years earlier, a loss of power due to the ballot was no longer considered completely ruled out. Against the background of falling popularity, Hun Sen was forced to crack down on the only relevant opposition party, which was finally dissolved in November 2017. But not only the inevitable landslide victory in the 2018 parliamentary elections is likely to have strengthened his position within the party, but also the installation of his sons in extremely security-relevant positions of the regime. Even if this is a sign that he only trusts a very close circle and is thus snubbed his own party, his long political career is unlikely to have come to an end – if his health continues to play along.
Hun Sen was once considered in many political fields as detailed and on record, allegedly he got by with only a few hours of sleep a day. Today, insiders describe him as someone who allows himself to be guided by his emotions even when making important decisions and who rarely relies on civil, halfway critical-constructive advisors in his closest environment. He is considered the wealthiest Cambodian and, along with his family, owns numerous Cambodian companies. Most schools in the country are named after him and his wife Bun Rany (birth name Sam Heang). Both have been honored with honorary doctorates many times, although they have no academic training. Hun Sens’s rhetoric was never considered particularly cautious, but has become clear again in recent years gained in aggressiveness and sharpness. And it works, because hardly anyone doubts that his public attacks and threats are to be taken seriously.