Cambodia's recent political developments since the early 1990s are the revelation that a country in transition can move forward or otherwise backward. Paul Collier, a famous economist, argues in his famous book “Wars, Guns and Votes:Democracy in Dangerous Places” that during the past decade, 40 per cent of post-conflict situations revert into civil wars.
However, Cambodia has proven to be an extraordinary case. Since the civil war that ended in 1999 while comprehensive peace was achieved thanks to the win-win policy of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies whose transformative growth has been brought about by peace, stability, the rule of law, and democratisation.
Cambodia’s recent past has been marked by scars of civil wars and the Cold War’s power politics. When the nation was liberated in 1979 from the Khmer Rouge regime, key national political figures emerged one after another. Among them, the then young Hun Sen defended the interests of the people and nation by scarifying his life for the sake of liberation from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.
The peace negotiation process began in the late 1980s that later brought about the Paris Peace Agreements and the general elections in 1993 under the supervision and auspices of the UN, paving the way and building the foundation for peace, national reconciliation, institutional and legal reforms, and economic liberalisation through integration into the regional and global economies.
The 1993 Cambodian Constitution, which includes some key principles of the Paris Peace Agreements, provides a political compass for the Kingdom. Liberal multi-party democracy that has embedded in Cambodian political system is the foundation of peace, development and democracy.
Thanks to peace and stability, Cambodia’s economic growth rate has been remarkable with more than seven per cent of GDP growth over the past two decades and the per capita income has reached about $1,700 compared with about $240 in the late 1990s. The poverty rate dropped from 54 per cent in 1993 to less than 10 per cent in 2019. All of these are not the results of a haphazard plan or a wishful thinking, but of careful and rigorous policy designs together with peace and political stability obtained only through the strong and effective political leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government.
Political and governance reforms are processes that need strong political stewardship. Prime Minister Hun Sen has been at the helm spearheading country’s transition towards peace and prosperity. Now that Cambodia has conducted regular national and sub-national elections under the auspices of the liberal Constitution that guarantees civil and political rights, the country has seen a couple dozens of active political parties competing in the elections.
The latest political development was in October 2021 when amendments to the Constitution were made in relations to embracing single citizenship for top political leaders, which have received full support from the people and international community, including the Centrist Democrats International (CDI), the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), and other political parties and governments from around the world. Those amendments, including other newly adopted laws, are to protect national interests, including peace and political stability.
Power transition has been the hot political topic among the public as there is growing speculation with regard to who will be the next prime minister candidate from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
To clear the cloud, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently affirmed that General Hun Manet, currently serving as the Deputy Commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), will be one of the candidates to run for future elections. Of course, his preference goes to his eldest son. Political certainty and peaceful power transition are vital to the Kingdom’s future stability and development given the increasingly fluid geopolitical and security landscape in the Asia-Pacific.
General Manet has earned the overwhelming political support from the CPP. He is also a popular public figure as he has proven his leadership for people. He received his military education from the US Military Academy at West Point and his PhD in Economics from the University of Bristol.
Second, he has had practical experience in military services since 1995. The modern Cambodia has embraced meritocracy, whereby political leadership in the Cambodian democratic system favours competency and meritocracy. His military and diplomatic prowess were on full display during Cambodia-Thailand border disputes from 2008 to 2011, which contributed to the protection of Cambodia’s territorial integrity and the peace and cooperation with her neighbour.
Over the past decades, he has also led humanitarian activities, including being chairman of the Board of Directors of the Samdech Techo Youth Volunteer Doctor Association (TYDA), which mobilises medical professionals, medical students and volunteers to provide free healthcare services for rural Cambodians.
Since the global outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, General Manet has been devoting himself tirelessly over many sleepless nights in the fight against the pandemic to save peoples’ lives, while putting himself at heightened risks. Has he ever complained once? Probably not. Will he ever do so? Probably never.
Maintaining peace and stability are a must if the country is to sustain continuous growth and development while protecting independence, integrity and sovereignty. With this vision in mind, charting a smooth and peaceful path towards realising this goal requires national unity and solidarity to protect peace, continuously reform governance system, and create opportunities for the populace.
Popular support by means of democratic votes will decide the future leadership of Cambodia. General Manet, by all standards, is the most capable future leader who can continue to build the great civilisation, modernity, and a government by the people, for the people, and with the people.
Suos Yara is a member of the National Aassembly.