Lee Morgenbesser on Hun Sen

I talked to Lee Morgenbesser from the Griffith Asia Institute on the sidelines of the “Cambodia on the Brink” conference hosted by the ANU on 9 March, and the good people at the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific were there to film it. I’ll admit I’m not a TV natural, but Lee had some very interesting things to say from the perspective of a comparative political scientist about how unusual—indeed risky—it is for Hun Sen to make the shift from  electoral authoritarianism to “hegemonic” authoritarianism.

For readers keen to read some of Lee’s work, I can recommend his book, Behind the Façade: Elections Under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, and this article exploring the personal nature of Hun Sen’s rule and the issues that raises for the categorisation of authoritarian regimes in comparative politics. He’s also contributed to New Mandala together with Tom Pepinsky on the topic of “Elections without democracy in Southeast Asia”.

You can also listen to a podcast of a panel held at the same conference, where Gareth Evans, Elaine Pearson and Leng Thearith spoke to Aaron Connelly about what the world can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t do in support of democracy and human rights in Cambodia.

For background on the deteriorating political situation in Cambodia, check out the recent posts on Cambodia by New Mandala contributors.

Cambodia at New Mandala

Hun Sen’s gamble

The dissolution of the CNRP protects the prime minister’s position in the short term, but may backfire in the long run.

Explaining the crackdown in Cambodia

Two factors: the CPP is spooked by its declining electoral fortunes, and the west hasn't spoken up for democracy.

Cambodia’s society is changing fast, and its parties slowly

The 2017 commune elections don't point to a decisive result for either the CPP or CNRP next year.

2 Responses

  1. Jacqui

    Great discussion. Well done New Mandala.

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  2. Apart from some die-hard supporters of Cambodia’s ruling party most others who have chosen to take a close interest in the country are indeed coalescing around the observations expressed by Lee Morgenbesser and Sebastian Strangio and Ear Sophal to name just two more. You can add people like me who have worked in Cambodia for over 20 years. Although we are “foreign” and “civil society” – once welcomed but now regarded with hostility – our contribution and experience does allow us to express opinions. We can do that in our own right, because of the money and benefits we have brought for poor Cambodians, and on behalf of many of those Cambodians who today are back to where they were under the Khmer Rouge. Very many are afraid to express any views that are less than wholehearted appreciation even devotion to the ruling party and its top leadership.

    It was clear to us that PM Hun Sen decided that when his senior most powerful colleagues were unwilling to reform, as he outlined in his 5 hour introspective speech after his party’s near defeat in 2013, the only logical course was to return to the kind of rule where there is no chance of electoral defeat anywhere. From that point any previous semblance of neutrality in state institutions including security forces was dropped. Instead absolute loyalty has been demanded….. and then rewarded.

    The current crackdown on all forms of opposition has created an artificial situation that the majority of Cambodians do not want. Young people especially, with their sights on the outside world through their Smartphone screens, will want more. They will not accept, unlike their parents, being told what to think and what to do. The sad thing though is many in the international community, who are committed to still doing business with the regime, are investing in the old generation instead of new ones. So much for universal human rights.

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