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Cambodia Government (Khmer: រាជរដ្ធាភិបាលកម្ពុជា ) a monarchy ruled Cambodia from ancient times until 1970, surviving under a French protectorate from 1863 to 1953. In 1970 a right-wing coup ended the monarchy, and the coup’s leaders established the Khmer Republic. A civil war ensued, and in 1975 a Communist-dominated insurgency movement known as the Khmer Rouge, or Red Khmers, took control of Cambodia. Renamed Democratic Kâmpŭchéa (DK), the country waged war against neighboring Vietnam starting in 1977.

The Khmer National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS), a group of Cambodian Communist rebels backed by more than 100,000 Vietnamese troops, deposed the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and established the pro-Vietnamese regime of the Peoples’ Republic of Kâmpŭchéa (PRK). However, only a few foreign governments recognized the PRK as Cambodia’s legitimate government, and the DK retained Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations (UN) until 1990.

  • Executive
  • Legislature
  • Judiciary
  • Political Parties
  • Defense
  • International Organization

Vietnam stationed troops in Cambodia throughout the 1980s. During this time, the Kâmpŭchéan People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP), the only legal political party, ran the PRK on socialist principles. After Vietnam withdrew its troops in 1989, the PRK renamed itself the State of Cambodia (SOC), abandoned socialism, and introduced free-market reforms. Fighting between the forces of the PRK and the DK, which had reached a stalemate during the Vietnamese occupation, flared up again. The KPRP changed its name to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in 1991.

International negotiations under UN auspices led to a peace accord, signed in Paris in 1991. The agreement called for a UN protectorate to help rule the country until national legislative elections could be held in 1993. More than 20 political parties participated in the 1993 elections. However, two parties obtained more than 85 percent of the vote: A royalist party, known by its French acronym, FUNCINPEC, won the most seats, while the CPP, led by the incumbent prime minister, Hun Sen, won the next largest bloc. Following the elections, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC became first prime minister, while Hun Sen took the post of second prime minister. In September 1993 a new constitution restored the monarchy and established the Kingdom of Cambodia.

In July 1997, Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh while he was abroad, replacing him with Ung Huot, a more pliable member of FUNCINPEC. Elections held in 1998 gave the CPP a plurality of votes, but Ranariddh and another opposition candidate, Sam Rainsy, contested the outcome of the election, claiming that it had not been conducted fairly. In November 1998 the CPP and FUNCINPEC reached a compromise agreement resulting in a new coalition government. Hun Sen became the sole prime minister, while Ranariddh became the president of the National Assembly. Cambodia is divided for administrative purposes into 20 provinces and 3 municipalities. These units are administered by governors.


Cambodia’s head of state is the king, whose role is largely ceremonial and advisory. The king, on the advice of the legislature, formally appoints the prime minister to head the government. The prime minister must be a member of the winning party in legislative elections. The prime minister heads a cabinet made up of members of the legislature. Cabinet members are chosen by the prime minister, ratified by the legislature, and formally appointed by the king.


A bicameral (two-chamber) parliament holds legislative power. The more powerful lower house is called the National Assembly. Established in 1993, the assembly consists of 122 members who serve five-year terms. Members are chosen through popular elections in which people over 18 years of age are entitled to vote. The National Assembly may dismiss cabinet members or the entire cabinet with a two-thirds majority vote. The upper house, or Senate, was created by constitutional amendment in 1999, in accordance with provisions of the 1998 agreement. The 61-member Senate serves as an advisory body to the National Assembly; it has the power to recommend amendments to legislation passed by the assembly, but the lower house can reject the recommendations on a second vote. Although members of the first Senate were appointed based on the 1998 election results, future senators will be elected. The first Senate term is set at five years, but subsequent terms will be six years.


The 1993 constitution provided for an independent judiciary under a Supreme Court. However, the exact structure and laws of the courts were not yet determined as of early 2000. (Back to Top)

Political Parties

Thirty-nine parties participated in the 1998 elections, but only three received enough votes to obtain seats in the National Assembly. Official results awarded the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) 64 seats, FUNCINPEC 43 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP, formerly the Khmer Nation Party) 15 seats. FUNCINPEC’s political platform supports the maintenance of the monarchy, economic development, closer regional ties, and democratic government. The SRP advocates adherence to democratic principles and respect for human rights, land reform, and protection of the environment. Under the 1998 agreement between the CPP and FUNCINPEC, Ranariddh became president of the assembly, even though FUNCINPEC did not hold the majority. The CPP headed the Senate after it was convened in 1999. The agreement also divided control of the cabinet ministries between the two parties. Each party assumed control of some of the ministries, while others were to be placed under joint control.


In 2002 the Cambodian armed forces had 125,000 members. This figure includes an army of 75,000, a navy of 3,000, and an air force of 2,000; the remainder make up provincial forces. From 1979 to 1997 the army was engaged in fighting Khmer Rouge remnants and their anti-Vietnamese allies in the northern and western parts of the country, on both sides of the Thai border. After the Khmer Rouge resistance collapsed in the late 1990s, the foreign nations who provide aid to Cambodia exerted pressure on the Cambodian government to reduce the size of its armed forces.

International Organizations

Cambodia is a member of the United Nations (UN). It was scheduled for admission into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1997, but its entry was delayed by the political struggle between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh and the instability of the government following the 1998 elections. ASEAN admitted Cambodia in April 1999.

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