Cambodia 2004

By | June 6, 2022


State of Southeast Asia, on the Indochinese peninsula. According to Homosociety, the population, which at the 1998 census was 11,437,656 residents (14,071,000 residents According to an estimate of 2005), is concentrated above all in the plains and valleys, and has a very low density. The demographic dynamics recorded a constant growth (2.0 % in the period 2000-2005), in particular in the cities, starting with the capital, Phnom Penh (570,155 residents according to an estimate of 1998, and 1,350,000 the urban agglomeration in 2005), even if the percentage of the urban population still remains very low (19 % in 2003).

The economy has maintained a profile that differs little from subsistence, and political instability represents a serious obstacle to progress. Cambodia’s admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in September 2003 was obtained at the cost of concessions that made its economy even more vulnerable to foreign competition. Debt, both internal and external, has been progressively increasing, while international aid in the years at the turn of the century represented 15-20 % of national income, and foreign investments remained weak due to insufficient infrastructures, high cost of public services, bureaucracy and corruption.

The economy continues to be based on two main sectors, the clothing industry and tourism: the first ensures 80 % of exports, but requires investments that allow for the modernization of textile factories, the second recorded a constant growth in the number of arrivals, except for 2003, when the SARS ( Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ) epidemic came to a halt. These two sectors of activity coexist with a largely agricultural economy, however penalized by the floods of 2000. Production remains oriented towards the internal market, with the exception of rubber, which has received an internationally recognized certification. In January 2002, a law came into force that prohibits the cutting of trees throughout Cambodian territory, in order to stop the illegal trade in valuable timber.


At the turn of the century, the tiring process of internal democratization initiated after the end of Vietnamese domination (1979-1989) was still struggling to take off, and corruption and violence remained the constants of the political life of the country, dominated by the Cambodian People’s Party (PPC) and by its leader Hun Sen, prime minister since 1993. Through an authoritarian and personalistic politics, Hun Sen had effectively emptied the democratic institutions and imposed his own line on all the apparatuses of the state, practicing a systematic persecution against his opponents. The violence had not spared even the PPC government ally, the United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperating Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), an expression of the forces linked to the monarchy, whose role in determining the executive’s choices was a completely marginal result, also due to the deep internal divisions that had increased its weakness. In the early 21° sec. the situation remained substantially unchanged: indiscriminate arrests of the opposition forces continued to occur, and we witnessed the re-emergence of strong outbursts of racial intolerance, especially towards the Vietnamese community. No measures were taken to combat the corruption of the administrative and judicial system, repeatedly denounced by international organizations, and there was a marked deterioration in the conditions of the rural areas, the most densely populated, subject to speculation and undue occupation by landowners and of the city’s economic elite . After the local elections in 2002, accompanied by clashes and intimidation and ended with the victory of the PPC, a new phase of tension opened in 2003 in view of the legislative consultations which, considered by many as an opportunity to relaunch the country’s democratization process, turned out instead to be a source of further instability. In fact, the PPC, despite having obtained an overwhelming success with 47.3 % of the consensus against 21.9 % of the Party of S. Rainsy (PSR) and 20.7% of FUNCINPEC, had not managed to win two thirds of the seats needed to form a single-color government in Parliament, and was thus forced to enter into negotiations with other political forces. However, both the RDP and the FUNCINPEC made Hun Sen’s resignation as head of the executive a condition of their participation in a coalition government, also deciding to coordinate in a Democratic Alliance with the specific aim of opposing Hun Sen. negotiations continued in the following months, and the attempts at conciliation promoted by the international community and by King Norodom Sihanouk, who in January 2004he decided to leave the country in protest. The resumption of politically motivated killings also contributed to aggravating the situation, among which the one of the union leader Chea Vichea (Jan. 2004), one of the main opponents of Hun Sen, caused a particular sensation.

The crisis remained unsolved until July 2004, when PPC and FUNCINPEC finally reached an agreement, from which the PSR was excluded: Han Sen was re-designated prime minister, while the leader of FUNCINPEC, Norodom Ranariddh (one of the king’s sons), came appointed president of the Parliament. One of the first acts of the new executive was to resume negotiations with the United Nations to define the procedures for the establishment of the international court called to judge the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the years in which they were in power (1975-1979), during which more than one and a half million people were killed. Officially approved by the Parliament in the summer of 2001, the effective constitution of the court had been repeatedly postponed due to the persistence of strong internal opposition and the differences that arose over its composition between the UN and the Cambodian government. On the basis of an agreement that provided for the presence of a majority of Cambodian judges over foreign ones, in October the Parliament ratified a law that was supposed to ensure the definitive creation of the court. Also in October, surprisingly, the king decided to abdicate, and was succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni. In early 2005, Parliament’s decision to waive Rainsy’s immunity, to allow Hun Sen to prosecute him in a libel suit, dealt a new blow to political freedom, still far from consolidated. In foreign policy, Cambodia in those years maintained close relations with China and neighboring countries, with which economic and trade agreements were strengthened.

Cambodia 2004