“Unlike their parents of the civil-war and genocide generations, Cambodian youth --a generation shaped by modern education and globalisation-- will cast their votes based on a realistic appraisal of the Government’s performance and actionable policies, instead of fears and one-time consolations”.
Cambodia’s 2013 election was characterised by the growing engagement of young voters and by collective violence. In December 2013, 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest election results. The election reduced the ruling Cambodia People’s Party’s (CPP) majority in the National Assembly from 90 to 68 seats. But the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) claimed there was electoral fraud. Demonstrations were followed by a deadly clash between protesters and police. 3.5 million out of the total 9.5 million registered voters in 2012 were aged between 18 and 30 (36% of all voter). Over the last five years, Cambodia’s GDP growth has been close to 7%. The poverty rate declined from 53.2% in 2004 to 17.7% in 2012. The World Bank says that a significant share of Cambodia’s ‘near-poor’ (8.1 million people), remains vulnerable to ‘economic shocks’. Allegations of nepotism abound in political parties and State institutions, while the children of farmers and workers remain marginalised. After 2013, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has learned to identify and censor critics. Internet users have greatly increased: 6.25 million in 2015, and up to 9.5 million are expected by 2020 (65% of the population). The Government’s Internet censorship has been ramped up, with the Cyber War Team, the Law on Telecommunications and the coming Law on Cyber Crime. Instead of promoting freedom and human rights, the Government has made it harder for citizens to demand a responsive Government. Those who express political opinions publicly must be cautious or risk criminal charges. Facebook has become a Government platform, complementing Parliament and the Courts. There is talk of a ‘Facebook Council of Ministers’. Though popular discontent has been temporarily relaxed, Cambodia’s volatility to collective violence remains worrisome in the absence of strong State institutions and inclusive growth.