Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-6c8bd87754-lkb8j Total loading time: 0.51 Render date: 2022-01-19T20:41:45.014Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

6 - Weak State and the Limits of Democratization in Cambodia, 1993–2017

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2020

Aurel Croissant
Universität Heidelberg
Olli Hellmann
University of Waikato, New Zealand
Get access


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.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Beban, A., So, S., and Un, K. (2017). From Force to Legitimation: Rethinking Land Grabs in Cambodia. Development and Change, 48(3), 590–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blunt, P., and Turner, M. (2005). Decentralisation, Democracy and Development in a Post-conflict Society: Commune Councils in Cambodia. Public Administration and Development, 25(1), 75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and ARTICLE 19. (2011). Cambodia: Freedom of Expression and the Point of No Return, Press Release. scoop. Available at: [Accessed 9 January 2014].Google Scholar
Chandra, N. (1994). Center Cannot Hold: Sihanouk Fears for the Future of His Country. Far Eastern Economic Review, 175 (20), 19–20.Google Scholar
Diamond, L. (1999). Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Donnelly, R. (2006). Cambodia-Risk Assessment. Available at: [Accessed 15 January 2008].Google Scholar
Donovan, D. A. (1993). The Cambodian Legal System: An Overview. In Brown, F., ed., Rebuilding Cambodia: Human Resources, Human Rights and Law. Washington, DC: The John Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, pp. 69–107.Google Scholar
Eisenstadt, S. N., and Roniger, L. (1984). Patrons, Clients and Friends: Interpersonal Relations and the Structure of Trust in Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Global Witness. (2007). Cambodia’s Family Trees Illegal Logging and the Stripping of Public Assets by the Cambodian Elite. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2016].Google Scholar
Global Witness. (2015). The Cost of Luxury: Cambodia’s Illegal Trade in Precious Wood with China. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2018].Google Scholar
Gottesman, E. (2003). Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation Building. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Heder, S. (1995). Cambodia’s Democratic Transition to Neoauthoritarianism. Current History, 94(596), 425–29.Google Scholar
Heidenheimer, A. J., and Johnston, M., eds. (2011). Political Corruption: Concepts and Contexts. London and Oxford: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
Hughes, C. (2003). The Political Economy of the Cambodian Transition. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hughes, C., and Sopheap, R. (2000). Nature of Causes of Conflict Escalation in the 1998 National Election. Phnom Penh: Cambodian Center for Conflict Resolution/Cambodian Development Resource Institute.Google Scholar
Hughes, C., and Un, K. (2007). Cambodia Country Governance Analysis, March 2007 Report Commissioned by DFID. Phnom Penh: Embassy of the United Kingdom.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. (2009). Cambodia: 1997 Grenade Attack on Opposition Still Unpunished: Suspects in Attack Have Been Promoted Instead of Prosecuted. Available at: [Accessed 2 September 2015].Google Scholar
IMF. (2007). Macroeconomic Development, Public Financial Management and Private Sector Development, Statement by Cambodia’s Development Partners at the First Cambodia Development and Cooperation Forum, Phnom Penh. Available at: [Accessed 31 December 2007].Google Scholar
Independent Forest Sector Review. (2004). Part I: Choices, Issues, and Options. Available at: [Accessed 11 December, 2019].Google Scholar
Jackson, W., and Sokha, C. (2014). The Civil Service’s Phantom Workers. The Phnom Penh Post. Available at:’s-phantom-workers [Accessed 8 January 2018].Google Scholar
Khy, S., and Blomberg, M. (2015). Opposition Activists Convicted of Insurrection. The Cambodia Daily. Available at: [Accessed 10 December 2017].Google Scholar
Khy, S., and Wirght, G. (2016). Government Slammed for Arrests of NGO Officers. The Cambodia Daily. Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2016].Google Scholar
Kouch, N. (2015). Opposition Senator Arrested After Hun Sen’s Order. The Cambodia Daily, 13 August 2015. Available at: [Accessed 11 November 2017].Google Scholar
Larkins, C. M. (1996). Judicial Independence and Democratization: A Theoretical and Conceptual Analysis. The American Journal of Comparative Law, 44(4), 605–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Le Billon, P. (2002). Logging in Muddy Waters: The Politics of Forest Exploitation in Cambodia. Critical Asian Studies, 34(4), 563–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lemarchand, R. (1998). The State, the Parallel Economy, and the Changing Structure of Patronage Systems. In Rothchild, D. and Chazan, N., eds., The Precarious Balance: State and Society in Africa. Boulder: Westview Press, p. 163.Google Scholar
LICADO. (n.d.). Static Map and Spatial Data. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2018].Google Scholar
Mainwaring, S. (1999). Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Marks, S. P. (1994). The New Cambodian Constitution: From Civil War to a Fragile Democracy. Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 26(45), 45–110.Google Scholar
McCarthy, S., and Un, K. (2017). The Evolution of Rule of Law in Cambodia. Democratization, 24(1), 100–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgenbesser, L. (2017). Misclassification on the Mekong: The Origins of Hun Sen’s Personalist Dictatorship. Democratization, 25(2), 1–18.Google Scholar
National Committee for Sub-national Democratic Development. (2014). Is Governance Improving? A Comparison of the Results of the 2011 and 2013 IP3 Governance Perception Survey. 6 April. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Interior. (hardcopy on file with author)Google Scholar
O’Donnell, G. (1992). Transitions, Continuities, and Paradoxes. In Mainwaring, S. and O’Donnell, G., eds., Issues in Democratic Consolidation: The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, pp. 17–56.Google Scholar
O’Donnell, G. (1996). Illusions about Consolidation. Journal of Democracy, 7(2), 34–51.Google Scholar
O’Donnell, G. (2004). Why the Rule of Law Matters. Journal of Democracy, 15(4), 32–46.Google Scholar
Pak, K., and Craig, D. (2011). Learning from Party Financing of Local Investment Projects in Cambodia: Elite and Mass Patronage, Accountability and Decentralized Governance. In Hughes, C. and Un, K., eds., Reform and Transformation in Cambodia. Copenhagen: NIAS.Google Scholar
Pepys, M. (2007). Corruption within the Judiciary: Causes and Remedies. In Transparency International, eds., Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption in Judicial Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Putnam, R.D., Leonardi, R., and Nanetti, R. Y. (1994). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University press.Google Scholar
Radio Free Asia. (2014). Cambodian PM Promotes 29 to Four Star General. Available at: [Accessed 2 September 2015].Google Scholar
Radio Free Asia. (2015). Cambodia’s Armed Forces ‘Belong’ to the Ruling Party. Available at: [Accessed 2 September 2015].Google Scholar
Rose-Ackerman, S. (1999). Political Corruption and Democracy. Connecticut Journal of International Law 14, 363–78.Google Scholar
Rusten, C., Sedara, K., Netra, E., and Kimchoeun, P. (2004). The Challenges of Decentralisation Design in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute.Google Scholar
Schedler, A., ed. (2006). Electoral Authoritarianism: The Dynamics of Unfree Competition. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
Sloth, C., Bottra, K., and Sreng, H. K. (2005). Non-timber Forest Products: Their Value to Rural Livelihoods. Cambodia Development Review, 9(4), 1–6.Google Scholar
Sokhean, B. (2017). Breaking: Supreme Court Rules to Dissolve CNRP. The Phnom Penh Post. Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2017].Google Scholar
Sovuthy, K., and Peter, Z. (2016). Corruption Czar’s Sons Appointed as Assistants. The Cambodia Daily, 27 April, [Accessed 11 December 2019].Google Scholar
Stokes, S. C. (2005). Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics with Evidence from Argentina. American Political Science Review, 99(3), 315–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strangio, S. (2014). Hun Sen’s Cambodia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Stubbs, F., and Sameun, Y. (2003). Ubiquitous Hun Sen School Raise Ethic Issues. The Cambodia Daily, 9 January.Google Scholar
Technical Working Group Forestry and Environment. (2007). Forest Cover Change in Cambodia 2002–2006. Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum, 19–20 June. Cambodian Rehabiliation and Development Board. Available at: Scholar
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. NGO Law Monitor: Cambodia. Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2015].Google Scholar
The New York Times. (2014). Cambodia’s Subservient Judiciary. The New York Times, 7 July. Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2015].Google Scholar
Transparency International. (2006). Country Study Report, Cambodia 2006. Available at: [Accessed 2 September 2015].Google Scholar
Un, K. (2005). Patronage Politics and Hybrid Democracy: Political Change in Cambodia, 1993–2003. Asian Perspective, 29(2), 203–30.Google Scholar
Un, K. (2015). The Cambodian People Have Spoken: Has the Cambodian People’s Party Heard? Southeast Asian Affairs, 2015(1), 102–16.Google Scholar
Un, K. (2019). Cambodia: Return to Authoritarianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Un, K., and So, S. (2011). Land Rights in Cambodia: How Neopatrimonial Politics Restricts Land Policy Reform. Pacific Affairs, 84(2), 289–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
UNHCHR. (2007). Economic Land Concession for Economic Purposes in Cambodia: A Human Right Perspective. Phnom Penh: UNHCHR.Google Scholar
USAID-Cambodia. (2008). Political Competitiveness and Civil Society Assessment. Phnom Penh: USAID-Cambodia.Google Scholar
Verver, M., and Dahles, H. (2015). The Institutionalisation of Oknha: Cambodian Entrepreneurship at the Interface of Business and Politics. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 45(1), 48–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
World Bank. (2003). Cambodia Enhancing Service Delivery through Improved Resource Allocation and Institutional Reform: Integrated Fiduciary Assessment and Public Expenditure Review. Phnom Penh: World Bank/Cambodia.Google Scholar
World Bank. (2004). Cambodia at the Crossroads: Strengthening Accountability to Reduce Poverty. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2016].Google Scholar
World Bank. (2016). Worldwide Governance Indicators. Available at: [Accessed 2 July 2016].Google Scholar
World Bank. (2018). Revenue, Excluding Grants (% of GDP). Available at: [Accessed 6 January 2018].Google Scholar
Zakaria, F. (2007). The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (Revised Edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats