While victory by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in Sunday’s general election was expected, the scale of the win was still shocking. The CPP claims to occupy every seat in Parliament. Democracy in that country has long been a ritual rather than a reality, but this campaign exposed the claims of representative government as empty. The people of Cambodia have no recourse other than protest, which will likely result in more pain for them. Much of the world, Japan included, sees in Cambodia a geopolitical struggle in which democratic ideals are subordinated to power politics.
Hun Sen is one of the world’s political survivors, having served as prime minister of Cambodia since 1985. He has maintained that position despite international and domestic turmoil — some of which he engineered. He has changed or ignored political rules when they did not suit him and used every tool of state power to vanquish his enemies. Consistent with that approach, elections are a formality and Sunday’s vote was no exception. Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the top opposition force, was arrested on charges of treason in September and he remains jailed.