chapter  4
61 Pages

Cambodia’s battle for public space: The neoliberal doctrine of “order” versus the democratic expression of the people’s will

The international community’s unenthusiastic reaction to the coup of 1997 was telling in that it revealed a donor agenda where the global promotion of “stability” takes precedence over any real call for democracy. The suspicions of those few observers who had been cynical about the purpose and goals of the UNTAC mission all along could no longer be easily dismissed. While democracy was floundering in post-UNTAC Cambodia, the free market was in fine form so long as the “stability” and “order” that Hun Sen’s regime represented could be maintained. Although the lie of the “good governance” agenda was now standing naked before us through the (non)actions of multilateral and bilateral donors in response to the coup, the 1998 elections offered an opportunity to quickly cover up this exposure. However, another exercise in electoralism rather than democracy was not what the Cambodian people had in mind, and in the post-coup landscape, Cambodians themselves would soon begin to take matters into their own hands. The geography of protest that had begun to emerge in Cambodia following the UNTAC mission would blossom following the 1998 elections as an extraordinary and unprecedented “from below” social movement. Since the elections of 1998, an increasing number of Cambodians have been willing to participate in the making of their society by actively taking space. This chapter traces the key events, voices, outcomes, and contestations of the “hearts and minds war” that has become Cambodia’s battle for public space.