Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Abusive Constitutionalism in Cambodia: Legislation and Legitimacy in the Lead-Up to the 2018 Elections

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Tyler, Mezzanine Level

Constitutionalism has been widely overlooked in literature on Cambodia; a trend that belies the extent to which adherence to the Constitution has become a feature of political discussion in the country. This has been particularly pronounced in advance of Cambodia’s 2018 elections, as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has escalated its familiar campaign of legal harassment: using control over legislative machinery and a politically pliant judiciary to weaken political opposition, and silence dissent more generally. Hence, this paper will highlight how legislative enactments and amendments led by the CPP have changed the electoral terrain, and the political climate more generally, ahead of 2018. Rather than seeing this as anathema to the Constitution, however, I will suggest that it is in fact an extension of a particular type of practice, elsewhere described as “abusive” constitutionalism. As such, this paper will examine legal texts, and apply discourse analysis to the declarative statements made by ruling-party representatives, to suggest that the CPP has carefully and concertedly used legal procedures and arguments to legitimize attempts to “hollow out” key normative aspects of the Constitution. Then, drawing on data from a series of semi-structured, qualitative interviews, the paper will note the extent to which this legitimacy depends on a preoccupation with “order” and “stability” that may not be shared by Cambodia’s increasingly youthful population. The result will provide both a platform from which to discuss the 2018 national elections, and a more nuanced account of the role of the Constitution in Cambodian politics.

Benjamin Lawrence

University of Victoria, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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4 - Abusive Constitutionalism in Cambodia: Legislation and Legitimacy in the Lead-Up to the 2018 Elections



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