Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 May 2020
This chapter argues that the democratic transition in Cambodia was a product of external imposition through the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement. The accords authorized the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1992–93 to oversee the democratic transition by organizing multi-party elections and to assist in the drafting of a new liberal democratic constitution. Across the next two decades, Cambodia’s democracy went through a period of electoral authoritarianism and in 2017 plunged into a de facto one-party authoritarianism. These developments derived from Cambodia’s weak state capacity. Cambodia’s entrenched neo-patrimonialism kept the quality of governance low in terms of administrative and extractive capacity but kept coercive capacity against democratic forces strong. As popular demand for deeper democracy and government accountability and responsiveness intensified, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) strengthened the state’s capacity by increasing revenue collection, public service provision and the quality of the bureaucracy. However, this reform is unlikely to lead to democratic deepening due to the CPP’s determination to preserve its interests and its ideational inclination to transform Cambodia into a developmental authoritarian state where economic growth takes precedence over liberal democracy.