International Intervention and the People's Will

The Demoralization of Democracy in Cambodia

Author: Caroline Hughes


This article examines the deterioration in relations between two Cambodian opposition parties and the "international community" from whom they sought support during the 1998 Cambodian elections. It is suggested that the manipulation, by influential political actors, of internationally promoted political concepts such as "democracy," "sovereignty," and "the people's will" is problematic for mutual understanding between international and local political actors. In Cambodia in 1998, liberal views of the "people's will" as an amoral and neutral construct facilitating the delegation of authority were awkwardly but influentially conflated, by the election campaigning of the two parties, with a view of the "people's will" as a moral imperative to liberate the nation from alleged "traitors." This caused widespread adherence, among the parties' followers, to views of the 1998 elections that were nonliberal and antidemocratic in a number of respects. When sharp differences in understandings of the political situation emerged between local and international actors, following the electoral defeat of those opposition party leaders, the fragile nature of a purported "partnership" between a self-appointed "international community" and the Cambodian people was exposed.

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December 2002
© E.D. Starin