Hun Sen’s Cambodia and the 2017 Commune Elections

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Cambodia’s opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), made significant gains over previous races, winning between 30-45% of the vote in this weekend’s commune elections. These gains could pose a challenge to the three-decade reign of Cambodia’s strongman Prime Minister, Hun Sen who faces potential defeat in national elections next year. In recent public appearances, Hun Sen said victory for his party, the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), is worth sacrificing 200 lives and warned of civil war if the CPP loses. Over the next year, Cambodia’s fragile democracy could reach a tipping point. Stimson convened a discussion between leading Cambodia analysts to discuss the implications of the 2017 commune elections and progress and perils of democratization in Cambodia.  

WHAT: A discussion between leading Cambodia analysts to discuss the implications of the 2017 commune elections and progress and perils of democratization in Cambodia.  

Sebastian Strangio, Journalist; Author, Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Sebastian Strangio is a journalist, author, and analyst focusing on Southeast Asia. Since 2008, his writing from the region has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times, The Economist, The New Republic, Forbes, and The Atlanticamong many other publications. In addition to living and working in Cambodia, where he spent three years reporting at The Phnom Penh Post, he has reported extensively in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and other parts of Asia, and has consulted for a wide variety of economic risk firms and non-government organizations. In 2014, Sebastian’s first book Hun Sen’s Cambodia was published by Yale University Press to widespread acclaim, and was named as one of the 2015 Books of the Year by Foreign Affairs. He currently splits his time between Southeast Asia and Chapel Hill, where he is a research affiliate at the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina, focusing on Southeast Asian politics and the impacts of China’s rise in the region. Sebastian holds a B.A. in history and Master in International Politics from the University of Melbourne.

Sophal Ear, Associate Professor, Occidental College
Sophal Ear fled the genocide in Cambodia as a refugee, and as a child. Today, as an associate professor at Occidental college, he is a leading authority on Cambodia’s electoral politics and political economy of development. Professor Ear is the author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy and co-author of The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resource Quest Is Reshaping the World. A TED Fellow, he is the writer and narrator of the award-winning documentary The End/Beginning: Cambodia, which follows his family’s escape from Cambodia through Vietnam to France and America. Aside from numerous scholarly journals, his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. He has been featured on Public Radio International’s The World, and quoted in The Economist, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker, among other venues.

Courtney Weatherby, Research Analyst, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson Center
Courtney Weatherby is a Research Analyst with the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program at Stimson. Her research focuses on infrastructure development, climate change, and energy issues in Southeast Asia, particularly the food-water-energy nexus in the Mekong basin and China’s investment in regional energy infrastructure. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies with honors from Dickinson College and a M.A. in Asian Studies from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Before joining Stimson as a Research Associate, Weatherby interned with the Center for Strategic International Studies, the State Department, and Human Rights Watch.

Brian Eyler (moderator), Director, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson Center
Brian Eyler is the Director of Stimson’s Southeast Asia program. Eyler is an expert on transboundary issues in the Mekong region and specializes in China’s economic cooperation with Southeast Asia. He has spent more than 15 years in living and working in China and over the last ten years has conducted extensive research with stakeholders in the Mekong region, leading numerous study tours through China and mainland Southeast Asia. Before coming to the Stimson Center, he served as the Director of the IES Kunming Center at Yunnan University and as a consultant to the UNDP Lancang-Mekong Economic Cooperation program in Kunming, Yunnan province. He holds a MA from the University of California, San Diego and a BA from Bucknell University. Brian is the co-founder of the influential website His first book, The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong will be published by Zed Books in 2017.

Photo credit: Chris Ellinger via Flickr


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