Once comatose under the authoritarian leadership of Hun Sen, the country is now awakening.
Until very recently Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, famous for his marathon speeches, was arrogance personified. “I intend to stay in power until I’m 74”, he once said, which would mean until 2027. Having been the country’s ‘strong man’ since 1985, not surprisingly there were no rivals in sight.
Today, the former Khmer Rouge militant is still in the saddle but Cambodia has been seeing strikes, demonstrations and there’s a general sense of reawakening after years of resignation. Some are calling it the ‘Cambodian Spring’.
In last July’s elections, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – a merging of two opposition movements – won 55 seats in Parliament compared to the 68 taken by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Given the extensive gerrymandering of a system rigged to keep the authoritarian leader in power, the CNRP believes it was cheated out of a historic victory. Indeed, the party still boycotts the National Assembly, maintaining a permanent public protest in Phnom Penh throughout 2013 to contest the result. In early January, Hun Sen’s patience snapped: demonstrators were violently evicted and new protests banned.