Breath of Clarity



The paper’s purpose is to show demonstrate how Cambodia’s lacking post-conflict reconstruction theory implementation resulted in struggle as a response to the country’s gruesome genocide. The theoretical basis is grounded in establishing democratic principles: shared ideology, free markets, property rights, rule of law, nationalism, power decentralization, inclusive participation, justice, and strong elections. While the Cambodian genocide brought attention from international actors to establish democratic institutions in the area, a corrupt government led to inadequate election organization. This resulted in a government which lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its own people. While commune councils are a great strategy to alleviate poverty, unfortunately top-down policy-making diminishes a helpful institution’s influence. It allows for land and property rights to be disrespected and creates a totally unaccountable judiciary system. The ultimate consequence is lacking human rights and inability for the public to hold a voice. The analysis shows vertical cohesion is a more pressing issue than horizontal ties. The existing proportional system elections must be modified to stop corruption, and the democratic institutions must be constructed in adherence to Cambodia’s culture. The essay highlights a solution to strengthen the relationship between political parties and its people via shared respect for the Buddhist religion. The paper concludes cultural awareness is essential in designing structures which will, both, contain democratic principles and be realistically implemented into Cambodia’s cultural context.


A state must be self-sufficient to build sustainable strength post-conflict. In “The Institutional Prerequisites for Post-Conflict Reconstruction,” Christopher J. Coyne emphasizes a identifies self-sufficiency is achieved via a shared ideology about markets, property rights, and the rule of law. The approach to determine viability of a shared ideology is directly dependent on the extent of horizontal power network ties in the country. The theory holds there are two distinct types of social cohesion. Vertical social cohesion looks at levels of inequity on the assumption that substantial differences in income are both inherently unfair and damaging to the societal well-being. Horizontal social cohesion looks at how strong people are tied to each other, under the assumption that feelings of togetherness matter more both to the wellbeing of individuals and to the long-term health of a society. The main conclusion is that societies lacking adequate horizontal ties will require a high level of continual intervention and reconstruction efforts will have a lower probability of success.

In the United Nations paper “Governance Strategies for Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sustainable Peace and Development,” the authors assert stable rule of law is derived from interlinkages between legislative and judiciary pillars. The author starts by identifying the most critical key challenges in post-conflict countries, and then creates reconstruction guideposts within different policy areas. The approach is crucially delivered via a diagram framework to emphasize coexistence between the different elements is necessary. The center area symbolizes a region’s function via a triangle where three governance levers should always be considered by a leadership to accomplish its vision. The three central and interrelated governance levers are: (i) the people, (ii) the resources, and (iii) the services. The framework proceeds to convey how ruling leadership is most importantly constantly influenced by the surrounding area’s culture. The authors explains the constitution must be created from “the history, the suffering, and the aspirations of the people and truly reflect their needs” (Ernstorfer, Mekolo, Resta, & Rosenblum-Kuma, 2007). Their approach is based upon peace-building and restoring legitimacy and trust in the government’s power. The author illustrates trust in the government’s power is built from a process of inclusive participation.

The three complementary and fundamental powers deemed necessary to rule the state (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary) constitute the foundation. Parliaments must legislate human rights issues, address pressing security concerns, and fulfill the constitutionally mandated role to hold the executive branch accountable. The authors acknowledge “fragile post-conflict situations may not be able to stand the stress of putting leaders on trial” (Ernstorfer et al. 2007). The balance may lie in ensuring that justice and human rights protection is equitably and fairly available to communities and individuals in the short-term through an interim system of rule of law, while wider justice is achieved at the national level once the recovery process is stabilized.

In “Does Third-Party Enforcement or Domestic Institutions Promote Enduring Peace After Civil Wars? Policy Lessons From an Empirical Test,” results from a bootstrapped Weibull duration model show “democracy and the proportional representation electoral system significantly reduces the likelihood that civil war may recur” (Mukherjee, 2006). The dependent variable is operationalized as the number of months that peace endured following termination of the civil war. The model attests to Coyne’s support for self-sufficiency, and argues democratic institutions may encourage belligerents within divided societies to permanently settle their differences peacefully via negotiations rather than by using violence. So, then third-party enforcement will not be required to maintain peace within divided societies. In short, post-conflict reconstruction theory asserts setting up democratic political institutions, especially a PR electoral system, helps to foster long-term peace.


The Cambodian genocide (1975-1978) was a devastating civil war, which absolutely impacts present conditions. Before the catastrophe, the country simultaneously struggled with post-colonial dilemmas of independence, social fragmentation and modernization. As the incompetent administration further degraded the country’s already weak state machinery, communist rebels exploited the opportunity, and subsequently gained infamy as the Khmer Rouge. The coup d’etat highlighted internal tensions with violent action. Two million people, over one-half the population, were killed under the Khmer Rouge rule. The group invaded the capital and forced people into the country-side. The victims of the genocide were intellectuals, artists, and monks. The targeted population demographic resulted in difficult economic recovery. Supplementally, the government implemented labor cuts and inefficiently allocated resources to those who were left alive. The period crucially marked the breakdown of national infrastructure and popular trust in the state as resource of security and development. The Khmer Rouge was overthrown by a Vietnamese armed invasion in late 1978. The new Vietnam-backed regime restored basic order but, following the cruel rationale of the Cold War, the radical communist Khmer Rouge began receiving major support from the Western powers to counteract the expansion by Soviets who supported Vietnamese. Civil war persisted, and this lasted until peace agreements formed circa 1989.

Various political groups who participated in the Civil war constructed the Paris Peace Accord in 1991. The Accord requested the United Nations designate an independent body called the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to organize, facilitate, and supervise the first free and fair national democratic elections. Cambodian leaders had to set up the Supreme National Council (SNC), which comprised of three main political parties. The SNCs’ role and responsibilities were to ensure that free and fair elections were held, set up formal democratic institutions including a legislature, all political parties have an equal opportunity to conduct their campaigns, and adopt the PR electoral system. The first election in Cambodia, since several decades, took place in 1993. The election process was dysfunctional. For example, the Democratic Kampuchean Party (DKP), boycotted the election. Further, the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm and continued being violent around the country during the election period. Once elections were held, third parties such as the UNTAC gradually left Cambodia.

There has not been a recurrence of civil war in Cambodia in the last eight years; however, there have been other political problems and concerns about government corruption. Cambodia exemplifies new democracies are not full-functioning, nor are they in a transitory phase, rather they fall into a status between strong democracy and outright dictatorship (Carothers, 1999). While “88 percent of Cambodians agree that ‘to have a democracy, there must be elections with more than one party competing,’ only 8 percent identify parties’ policies, views and ideology as motives for voting” (Asia Foundation, 2003). In other words, existence of competing party ideologies has not emerged.

Although Cambodian elections have been held regularly and were judged “credible” by international and local observers, there remains a significant degree of unease (Öjendal and Lilja, 2009). In the 2013 National Assembly elections, the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) captured 68 of 123 seats, the least amount since 1998. There were reports of vote buying, duplicate voter names, and large groups of voters casting ballots in communes where they were not registered (Freedom House, 2015). The National Election Committee (NEC) identified more than 250,000 duplicate names and 290,000 missing names from voter rolls. As a result, all 55 Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) parliamentarians refused to take their seats at the 2013 assembly’s opening session (Freedom House). The CPP nominated Hun Sen for his fifth term as prime minister, and the single-party legislature formed a government without the CNRP. The CPP and CNRP reached an agreement in July 2014 that ended the CNRP’s boycott and led to the appointment of a new NEC by both parties. Still, problems include intolerance of political dissent, top-down policy-making which marginalizes the poor and fails to alleviate poverty.

For some governments, the principal objective is to establish central control and only later to transfer responsibilities to subnational governments (Blunt and Turner, 2005). Commune councils is the main power decentralization vehicle. First, in 1995 the Seila program was set up to strengthen local governance as a key to poverty alleviation. It demonstrated success in promoting small scale local infrastructure projects, and most importantly focused attention on local government units. However, the CPP leaders saw possibilities for further consolidating its grip on power by extending its impact at the grassroots in the communes (Blunt and Turner, 2005). By holding its resources and relying on a public desire for stability it could capture more official positions in electoral competition. The CPP is known to reward its supporters with coveted positions and financial incentives. Although the legislation gives the impression of the democratic devolution of wide-ranging powers, the reality is one of continued central control, and the commune councils don’t hold much power in the entire unit.

Land and property rights are regularly abused for the sake of private development projects. The state has “seized 12 percent or more of Cambodia’s land in concessions to private developers” (Freedom House, 2015). Thousands were forcibly removed from their homes, with little or no compensation or relocation assistance, to make room for mine operations, commercial plantations, factories, and office and residential developments. Senior officials and their family members are frequently involved in these ventures, alongside international investors.

The judiciary is also dominated by inefficiency and corruption (Freedom House, 2015). There is a severe shortage of lawyers, and the system’s poorly trained judges are subject to pressure from the CPP. There is abuse by law enforcement officers, including illegal detention and prisoner torture. The former Bavet governor was convicted for shooting three protesters in 2013 and was sentenced to only one and a half years in prison. There was ongoing detentions of CNRP supporters, many of whom are being held without trial (Freedom House, 2015).

The constitution outlines the right of Cambodians to participate in multiparty democracy, but in practice, political opposition is restricted. Also, journalists who spoke out about issues such as land rights, illegal logging or the controversial border treaty with Vietnam were arrested, attacked, threatened, imprisoned or prosecuted (Human Rights Watch World Report, 2006). In January 2015, police shot and killed at least four protesters in Phnom Penh during demonstrations for higher wages and better working conditions. Criticism of the prime minister and his family is often punished. Teachers and students practice self-censorship regarding discussions about Cambodian politics and history (Freedom House, 2015). Although there were no major civil wars, Cambodia currently rests as a corrupt state from a Western view.


Overall, the Cambodia case study illustrates how post-conflict reconstruction theory principles hold true because the Cambodian democratic institutions are corrupt due to not carrying out proper post-conflict reconstruction theory principles. Although democratic institutions were set, the failure to conduct fair proportional representation elections inhibit the country’s ability to establish political legitimacy. Property rights are not respected, and human rights are lacking. Cambodia’s case emphasizes centralized power leads to inappropriate resource allocation. The major disagreement the case study holds with post-conflict reconstruction theory concerns Coyne’s sub argument that horizontal ties are more important than vertical. Cambodia’s efforts must be directed at lessening the inequity in the government, rather than elections. Along with identifying all the shortcomings, there is value in showing how democratic institutions may eventually be solved with mindful adjustment. My analysis concludes by identifying how essential cultural awareness is crucial to Cambodian post-conflict state reconstruction.

There is relatively little devolution of decision-making power to commune councils. A democratic commune reform has been carried out in Cambodia that is used to strengthen national autocracy. A judicial system has been established that enables a dirty mix of Politics and Law, while good governance reforms introduced at grassroots level couldn’t be extended to be powerful actors. A sophisticated electoral system was implemented which results in particular political outcomes. Neo-patrimonial features currently exist, which operate within a formally democratic structure. Their representatives utilize non-democratic practices and the results in unjust outcomes. The ‘public’ and the ‘personal’ interweave so that the state apparatus tends to be used to build personal patronage networks instead of delivering what is expected of a state-building process by an accountable state.

Cambodia’s corrupt democratic system reveals a persistent effort to sustain a kinship-oriented system inherent to Cambodian culture. Decentralization has faltered due to a lack of fit with Cambodia’s socio-cultural institutional context. However, legitimacy itself seems to have a hybrid nature. Overall, the concept of hybridization is used to describe a situation where new discourses and social structures evolve from the blending of original ones (Öjendal and Lilja, 2009). The politicians within the new institutions of liberal democracy lean heavily on traditional discourses and institutions to underpin their authority. The kinship-based social organization of Cambodian society has become mixed with the new liberal democracy, creating a hybrid system in which political participation is steered partly by family connections (Öjendal and Lilja, 2009). Patron–client relations are not in themselves evil, but they acquire negative value compared to the western liberal democracy norm. Therefore, although we should not belittle the problems of autocracy, it is nevertheless important to remember that the emerging hybrid system is valued differently by different observers according to expectations they had from the outset.

It’s interesting how culture can play a positive role in Cambodian elections, which enable legitimate political participation (Öjendal and Lilja, 2009). Recently, there is a connection between political rallies and Buddhism. When politicians donate to the wats, it is marked by a ceremony that is a collaborative venture involving both the wat and the political leader. These rituals reward political leaders with some legitimacy. Monks, in turn, attend political rallies. This is one example of how local institutions and beliefs provide political legitimacy to leaders within the new democratic system, creating a hybrid of the old and the new. Moving forward, it is essential to focus on how certain healthy democratic practices in alignment with Cambodia’s culture can be extended.


In summation, Cambodia’s case study validates post-conflict reconstruction theory, as it illustrates that a corrupt country who doesn’t practice fundamental democratic principles can not be a strong state. Particularly in post-conflict societies, it will be difficult to limit corruption seeping into traditional democratic institutions, such as elections. Understanding power decentralization, by specifically investigating vertical ties, is crucial to build upon the already well-functioning Cambodian commune councils. Remaining public sector reform now hinges on the Commune Council, the most democratic forum in the entire system. It is therefore essential to consider how the local context influences the way in which some aspects of democratization become adopted and valued while others are muted or ignored. It’s important to investigate how the Commune Council forum is able to perpetuate democratic values, and how the strategy can be extended to strengthen party strategies or the judicial system. This way, democratic principles can be introduced into a non-Western culture via region-specific institutional structures.