Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats in the 2018 national election, having banned the main opposition party in 2017, turning the country into a de facto one-party state. The prime minister since 1985, Hun Sen, continued in office. International observers, including foreign governments and international and domestic nongovernmental organizations, criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the people.
The Cambodian National Police maintain internal security. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are responsible for external security and also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Police report to the Ministry of Interior, while the armed forces report to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which at times threatened force against opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling party. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, criminal libel laws, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious and pervasive government corruption, including in the judiciary; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor, including forced or compulsory child labor.
A pervasive culture of impunity continued. There were credible reports that government officials, including police, committed abuses and acts of corruption with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.
As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.
Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.
Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.
Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.
In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.
In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.