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Cambodia: Country Report
Images Courtesy of: CIA World Fact Book
Cambodia: A Struggle for Freedom
Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. However freedom was short lived and in April of 1975, after a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh (the Capitol and largest city in Cambodia). They immediately evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT. This number is equal to the population of current day Phnom Penh. 13 years of civil war ended when in December of 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, beginning a 10-year Vietnamese occupation. Conflict started back however for another decade. The United Nations finally intervened in 1991 with the Paris Peace Accords, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government however conflict still persisted. Due to factional fighting and the fact the country was still in crisis, Cambodia’s elections ended up in Coalition governments in 1993 and 1997. Major success came in 1999 when the Khmer Rouge officially surrendered.1 Over the past 13 years since 1999 the country has been fighting for growth and development.
The Cambodian economy has grown rapidly over the past decade. However it is important to note that the economy was among the worlds worst when growth began thus making their current world rank relatively low. From 2004 to 2008, the economy grew about 10% per year, driven largely by an expansion in the garment sector, construction, agriculture, and tourism. The Cambodian government is working with bilateral and multilateral donors, including the World Bank and IMF, to address the country's many pressing needs.2
Population: Cambodia has an estimated population of 14,805,358 people. Ninety percent of Cambodia’s population is of Khmer origin and speak the Khmer language.
The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia's demographic imbalance. More than 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.3
GDP: With an annual GDP of $32.95 billion, Cambodia is ranked 106th in the world. However their GDP real growth rate is 6.7%, which ranks them 30th in this category.4
Currency/ GDP: The Riel (KHR) is the Cambodian currency. The UN peacekeeping operation of 1993 injected a large quantity of U.S. dollars into the local economy. As a result, the dollar has become the country’s common currency.5
Graph courtesy of: EuroMoneyCountryRisk.com6
GDP (pc): Little of this money has trickled down to the citizens as GDP per capita is merely $2,300, ranking the country 185th out of 226.7
Income Inequality: Income inequality is unfortunately on the rise. The Gini coefficient (which measures inequality- 0 being perfect equality and 1 being absolute inequality) has moved upwards from 0.35 in 1994 to 0.40 in 2004 and 0.43 in 2007. As a recent trend, inequality has increased not only between rural and urban areas, but also within rural areas. Rural inequality rose from 0.27 in 1994 to 0.36 in 2007.8
Sectors of Economy: Agriculture is still the primary economic sector of Cambodia accounting for 30% of the GDP and over 57% of the labor force. Cambodia primarily produces rice, rubber, corn, vegetables, cashews, cassava (manioc), silk. However the service industry is quickly on the rise and accounts for 40% of the GDP and occupies nearly 27% of the labor force. Industry accounts for the rest of the labor force and GDP.9
Unemployment Rate: Another promising indicator of growth is Cambodia’s low unemployment rate of just 3.5%.10
Exports: The garment industry currently employs more than 300,000 people - only 5% of the work force - and contributes more than 70% of Cambodia's exports. Rubber exports increased about 50% in 2011 due to continued demand for raw rubber, particularly from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Cambodian exports, and construction is declining due to a shortage of credit. The long-term development of the economy remains a daunting challenge.11
Economic aid received/ Donors: $989 million in grants or concessional loans were disbursed in 2009. Major donors--Asian Development Bank (ADB), UN Development Program (UNDP), World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, the U.K., and the U.S.12
Cambodia is a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The Cambodian People’s Party is the major ruling party in Cambodia.
Executive Branch: Chief of State is King Norodom SIHAMONI (since 29 October 2004). Head of government is Prime Minister HUN SEN (since 14 January 1985). Elections for the king are chosen by a Royal Throne Council from among all eligible males of royal decent.13
Legislative Branch: The legislature is a bicameral system. The Senate (61 seats; 2 members appointed by the monarch, 2 elected by the National Assembly, and 57 elected by parliamentarians and commune councils; members serve five-year terms) and the National Assembly (123 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms).14
Judiciary: Supreme Court system established in 1997 in the constitution.15 The system is often criticized by international organizations like the UN Humans Rights Council who have been quoted as saying “the nation still has too many shortcomings in its justice system”.16
Level of Freedom: On a scale of 0-7 with 0 being the weakest and 7 the strongest, Cambodia’s freedom rankings range between 2-4 (Accountability and Public Voice: 3.28, Civil Liberties: 3.33, Rule of Law: 2.22, Anticorruption and Transparency: 2.46).17 Freedom House, like the UN, sees Rule of Law and the Judiciary System to be a serious problem.
Crisis & UN Involvement
In response to the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities under Pol Pot the UN intervened in 1991 with Paris Peace Accords. Immediately following the peace agreements, the UN Security Council enacted UNTAC under resolution 745 in 1992. At the mission’s height, there were 15,547-armed troops, 893-military observers, 3,500-civilian police, with over 100 UN officer deaths, and over $1.6 billion (U.S dollars) spent. The two main goals of UNTAC were to hold free and fair elections leading to a new constitution, and to “kick-start” the rehabilitation of the country.18
The UN simultaneously ran UNTAC with a program of humanitarian assistance to the Cambodian People. Funded by UN member states, humanitarian aid consisted of three major locations – the operations in Cambodia, at the border, and within Thailand. UNHCR (UN High Refugee Agency), a subsidiary organ of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) provided much assistance for refugees crossing the border. UNBRO (UN Border Relief Operations) was set up in 1982 to help control borders. 19
Image Courtesy of: Cacombodia.org25
major step towards normalization occurred with the elections of May 1993. Twenty parties took part in the elections. UNTAC oversaw the electoral campaign and registration of voters, as well as the elections themselves and over 90% of the population casted their ballots to elect a Constituent Assembly. In September, the Constitution was proclaimed and a new government, led by two prime ministers, was inaugurated. After the withdrawal of UNTAC, the UN remained in the country to support development. 20
Current Day Cambodia
Cambodia still lacks democracy. Although there are now elections and violence is on the decline, there are still many problem areas when it comes to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The CCP controls the lower and uppers chambers of parliament and it is clear that political suppression persists. Instead of using physical violence, the ruling CCP has employed the subordinate judiciary to suppress the media from criticizing the government, to prevent civil society organizations from protecting the poor and articulating alternation discourses, and opposition parties from voicing their opinions. Once again we find the judiciary branch to be a major problem in the Cambodian government.21
However there are many promising aspects to present day Cambodia especially in regards to their economy. The tourism industry is the country’s second greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry. 22 Tourism has increased steadily each year in the relatively stable period since 1993 UNTAC elections. In 1993 there were 118,183 international tourists, and in 2009 there were 2,161,577.23
The quality of health care in Cambodia is also on the rise. As of 2010, the life expectancy was 60 years for males and 65 years for females, a major improvement since 1999 when the average life expectancy was 49.8 and 48.8 respectively.24
Research and Data Development Provided by: John Speedling, Research Assistant, under the Supervision and Coordination of: Dr. Gerard Janco, President of Eurasia Center.