Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries > Cambodia (Now Kampuchea)
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 697-698
CAMBODIA (now Kampuchea): The Party System in 1950-1955 and 1956-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The French ruled Cambodia as part of the Indochina Federation before World War II and sought to continue the arrangement afterward but encountered opposition from Cambodian nationalists, spurred on by Viet Minh revolutionaries with deep family and political ties in Cambodia. A constitutional monarchy was established in 1947 in response to pressures for independence. The Democratic Party, victorious in the 1947 elections and in clear control of the National Assembly, worked to weaken still further the powers of King Norodom Sihanouk, who had ascended to the throne in 1941. But the death of Prince Youthevong, leader of the Democratic Party, resulted in serious disunity despite the one-party domination of the National Assembly. Although Cambodia won limited independence in 1949 with entrance into the French Union as an associated state, the country was far from united in embarking on her new course.

The National Assembly was dissolved in 1949 during the government of Yem Sembaur, a dissident Democrat who governed without a parliament until the elections of September 1951. Again the Democratic Party won a majority of the seats in the new parliament, but dissention within the party continued-sparked by the return to Cambodia of Son Ngoc Thanh, who rallied the leftist and nationalist elements against the French authority. In June 1952, Sihanouk dismissed the Democratic cabinet of Huy Kanthoul and assumed the government himself. Opposed by the party and accused of being in collusion with the French, Sihanouk dissolved the Assembly in January 1953 and openly campaigned for independence from France, even entering voluntary exile in June 1953, refusing to return until Cambodia was independent. By November 1953, France recognized the independence of Cambodia. After the end of the Indochina war in 1954, there was pressure to return to parliamentary government in Cambodia. Unsuccessful in an attempt to revise the constitution, making the cabinet responsible to the king rather than to the National Assembly, Sihanouk decided to enter party politics himself, abdicating the throne in March 1955 in favor of his father and founding the Popular Socialist Community (Sankgum Reastr Niyum). In the elections of September 1955, the Sankgum received 82 percent of the votes and almost all the seats in the Assembly against 12 percent for the Democrats.

The Democratic party faded away in the overwhelming success of Sihanouk's Sangkum. In elections of March 1958 and June 1962, the Sangkum repeated its sweeping victories as the only major party, receiving only token opposition from the small communist?oriented Pracheachon Party, whose existence was tolerated by Sinhanouk.

Continuity and Change since 1962

A nation's parties are seldom more stable than the nation, and what was once Cambodia has set something of a standard for national instability. Even its name was changed not once but twice: from the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Khmer Republic in October 1970 and then to Democratic Kampuchea in January 1976. The name changes coincided with fundamental regime changes, and the regime changes were accompanied by party changes. Neither of our original parties lasted until 1978, nor did the other two new parties formed after 1962.

Original Parties, Terminated

512 Democratic Party. The Democratic Party was swept away by the success of Prince Sihanouk's Sangkum in the 1955 elections. It is difficult to fix an exact date for the party's termination, but one source says that the Democratic Party was no longer a political force by 1957 (Area Handbook for Cambodia, 1968, p. 176).

511 Popular Socialist Community. Usually known as Sangkum, this party was Prince Sihanouk's political organization, and it held all the seats in the legislature while he was chief of state. However, this did not prevent the National Assembly from voting to expel him as chief of state in March 1970. Sangkum was reported as disbanded in February 1971.

NewParties, Terminated

513 Social Republican Party. This party was formed by Prime Minister Lon Nol, president of the new Khmer Republic, to support his government and contest the September 1972 elections. With opposition parties declining to participate, the Social Republican Party won all the seats. In 1975, Lon Nol's government fell to the Khmer Rouge.

514 National United Front. Soon after his arrival in Peking following his ouster in March 1970, Sihanouk announced the formation of the National United Front of Cambodia (FUNK) aimed at the overthrow of the Lon Nol regime (Area Handbook for Cambodia, 1973, p. 191). A key element in FUNK was the Communist Party of Kampuchea, a shadowy organization that Pol Pot said was founded in 1960 (Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, 1978, p. 225). After the fall of Lon Nol's regime, Sihanouk was retired from government leadership and Pol Pot became prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea. FUNK won all seats in the: assembly elections of 1976, but the party was probably terminated in 1978 following the Vietnamese overthrow of Pol Pot.


The future of Cambodia/Kampuchea is very much in doubt as of 1979. One might have expected a measure of governmental stability from a regime dominated by a ruling communist party. But by all accounts, Pol Pot's government, which dispersed the urban population throughout the countryside at great human costs, was not led by an ordinary communist party. The Soviet Union's displeasure with Kampuchea's genocidic policies was apparently sufficient to prompt Soviet backing of a Vietnamese invasion. China responded by supporting Kampuchea. Currently the battleground of opposing communist forces backed by the two great communist rival powers, Kampuchea is certain to have some form of communist government in the future. But what kind and how stable are uncertain.

1. Our study of party politics in Cambodia is based on a file of 1.282 pages from 104 documents, 28 of which are in French, the rest in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Mary Welfling, who also coded the Cambodian parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Allan Goodman was our outside consultant.