|A Khmer Rouge King|
When the U.S. pulled out of Indochina, the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 and enacted a puritanical, fanatical, communist makeover of the country with the King as their 'front man' on the world stage. This has led to some lasting controversy given that the Khmer Rouge butchered about a third of the entire population during their time in power. They were not removed until the ruling dictator, Pol Pot, insanely launched an attack on the neighboring Socialist Republic of Vietnam. He may have expected that his forces and China would crush the Vietnamese between them but he learned the hard way what the Americans, French and others, including the Chinese themselves, could have told him; fighting the Vietnamese is not something to take lightly. The Vietnamese basically wiped the floor with Pol Pot's forces, took over the country and installed their own government in 1979. One of the figures they put in power was a former Khmer Rouge cadre leader named (you guessed it) Hun Sen who had fled to Vietnam several years earlier. The Chinese did not approve of this, having backed the Khmer Rouge and because the Vietnamese were backed by Soviet Russia with whom China had a very tense relationship. However, King Sihanouk refused to go along with any pro-Khmer Rouge at this point, being glad to finally be free of them.
The opposition parties were not terribly difficult to deal with. Hun Sen could always find an excuse to arrest opposition figures, suspend their rights or in some way make sure that his party came first in every subsequent election. A favorite tactic of his, used more than once, was to take advantage of the long-standing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the exact location of their border. Whenever an election was coming up, Hun Sen would send military forces to the border, the Thais would respond by sending their own troops to the border and this was used as justification for Hun Sen to declare a state of emergency and martial law, putting the army on the ground to make sure people voted for the CCP, and then backing off when the elections were over. The only one with the prestige to challenge Hun Sen was King Sihanouk who, while his actual powers were extremely limited, could be a major problem for the prime minister due to his widespread popularity. King Sihanouk could force Hun Sen to back down by threatening to abdicate and the King still had considerable support from China, though many Chinese communists wondered why they spent so much money on a foreigner and a monarch.
|King Sihamoni w/ King Sihanouk|
Cambodia still has ties to Communist China but the reality that people need to understand is that the country is a dictatorship under Hun Sen with a figurehead monarch. If you want to know who is really in control, it is not that difficult if you take a broad view and not get bogged down in the local political squabbles that often do not amount to munch (even the royalists have long been accused of being what Americans would call 'controlled opposition'). Remember that the communist Vietnamese "founding father" Ho Chi Minh had originally founded the Indochinese Communist Party and he expected and planned to become the communist dictator of all of what had been French Indochina, not just his native Vietnam. Keeping that in mind, recall that Laos is effectively under Vietnamese occupation to this day and that Hun Sen was first put in power in Cambodia by the Communist Vietnamese and has remained in power ever since. If you ever go to Cambodia you will also notice that the army officers all speak Vietnamese. That should be a huge, huge clue as to who is really in charge in Cambodia and who is pulling the strings of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The King is still there but Cambodia is still in need of a true royal restoration.