chapter  5
11 Pages

Conclusion: Sowing the seeds of a new revolution?

To date, Hun Sen’s government stands apart in having weathered the lion’s share of the blame for setbacks to Cambodian democracy. The International Crisis Group (2000: 34) offers a typical assessment shared by many donors in concluding: “the RGC’s commitment to [democratic] reform is disingenuous.”

Others have argued from a decidedly culturalist position, contending that democracy has not come to Cambodia because Khmer culture is premised on a supposedly intrinsic resistance to power sharing, and is accordingly “ ‘violent” and “absolutist.” However, there is no credibility to such arguments, as they are essentialist in nature, recapitulate notions of “scientific racism” that predominated during the colonial era, and very often simply toe the “Asian values” line. In short, culturalist accounts serve to demonize Cambodian culture and thus a priori Cambodian people themselves. This outcome does not assist us in advancing our understanding of contemporary political developments in the country, nor is it supportive of the intense desire many Cambodians have for democracy. Nevertheless, this is not to say that Hun Sen’s regime has no culpability for the dearth of democracy in Cambodia, as his government certainly has a lot to answer for. Rather, it is simply a contention that we can find answers for his government’s authoritarian behavior in systems that do not imply there is something inherently “wrong” with the Cambodian people. Indeed, as Dylan Hendrickson (2001) maintains, there is ample evidence that external agencies are equally to blame for Cambodia’s failure to consolidate democracy, having downplayed the impact global economic forces would have on institutional reforms.