Grim future for democrats in Cambodia

Two weeks of sleepless nights have visibly shaken Lao Mong Hay. The Phnom Penh offices of his Khmer Institute of Democracy had to close during Cambodia's latest bout of political violence, which ushered in Hun Sen as the sole effective ruler. Now the institute's doors are open once again but the mood among its researchers and librarians is grim.

"Our situation is bleak," says Dr Lao. "Hun Sen's gamble with democracy and the world looks like it will pay off and the losers are the people of Cambodia. Our hopes for peace, security and freedom are shattered." Dr Lao has charted his country's UN-sponsored experiment with democracy from its inception at talks in Paris back in the 1980s. Accountability and freedom were always tall orders for a country bred on violence but the international community, he says, looks poised to abandon all hopes of true democracy in Cambodia in deference to Hun Sen, a man whom, at great risk, he labels "Cambodia's new dictator".

Earlier this month forces loyal to "second" prime minister Hun Sen ousted his rival and senior co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, accusing him of forging an illegal pact with the hated Khmer Rouge guerrillas. In two days' fighting in Phnom Penh, 58 people, mostly civilians, died. Japan, the US and Germany suspended aid programmes; thousands of foreigners were evacuated or advised to leave in a gesture of diplomatic protest. Although fighting continues in the remote north-western jungles, the situation has calmed over much of the country. Prince Ranariddh fled into exile and the militias of Hun Sen are tightening their grip amid reports of arrests and killings. In the rural provinces and in towns across the country, signs of Prince Ranariddh's Funcinpec political party have been ripped down by troops. Party slogans have been painted over with broad strokes of black paint and replaced with new messages. "Royalist Traitors," read graffiti scrawled across the broken walls of one erstwhile Funcinpec party office in Phnom Penh.

But the initial anger of the world's democracies has been replaced by a cynical acceptance of the country's new and authoritarian sole power. Hun Sen added a veneer of legitimacy to his takeover by naming the Funcinpec Foreign Minister, Ung Huot, to replace his former boss as co-premier.

The reason for the attitude appears to be one of pragmatism. The UN-forged coalition between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh failed, and Cambodia, plagued by rivalry between the two co-premiers, was racked by corruption and all but paralysed for the past 18 months.

"At least now things might get done, laws might get passed, and the country might get moving again," said a diplomat.

But the stance is hardly justifiable in the face of the country's collective terror at the prospect of a return to life without the freedoms promised in the four years since its imperfect, but fledgling, democracy lurched into life.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionShame it had to end like that, says Alexander Fury
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Technology Teacher (Resistant Materials and Graphics)

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently looking fo...

SEN Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher loo...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking Nu...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?