Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Land Grabbing and Cambodia’s Winning Coalition

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Park Tower 8222, Lobby Level

Prime Minister Hun Sen and the regime he dominates has outlived any other modern Cambodian political organization, despite UN intervention, the introduction of electoral democracy and massive changes in Cambodia’s political economy. This longevity is thus a puzzle, which I shed light on by focusing on linked processes of state formation and elite coalition building since 1979. I connect the theoretical positions of selectorate theory put forward by Bueno de Mesquita et al, with work on path dependence and critical junctures to suggest that Cambodia’s durable authoritarianism can best be understood in relation to concept of winning coalitions over time. I argue UN intervention was critical for setting the path of Cambodia’s current political and economic trajectory, building on institutional arrangements under an elite created during Vietnamese occupation and subsequent state building after the destruction wrought to both by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. I then consider how that historical process of elite formation centred on coercion has operated in tandem with the provision of private goods through the expropriation of land from Cambodia’s urban dwellers and rural farmers to the benefit of coalition members. I contend that this has centralised power around a tight group of elites in a regime that is underwritten by coercion, contrary to standard neopatrimonial explanations grounded in cultural assumptions or a redistributive hegemonic party as lead patron as per standard explanations of Cambodian politics. Finally I consider what this means for authoritarian durability going forward into elections in 2018.

Neil Loughlin

SOAS University of London, England, United Kingdom


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3 - Land Grabbing and Cambodia’s Winning Coalition

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