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13 00 N, 105 00 E  
multiparty democracy
9 November 1953
181,040 sq km


Government and politics

The politics of Cambodia formally take place, according to the nation's constitution of 1993, in the framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system, while the king is the head of state. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the Prime Minister and his or her ministerial appointees exercise executive power in government. Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate.

On October 14, 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the surprise abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week before. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king's brother), both members of the throne council. He was crowned in Phnom Penh on October 29. The monarchy is symbolic and does not exercise political power. Norodom Sihamoni was trained in Cambodian classical dance and is unmarried.

The BBC reports that corruption is rampant in the Cambodian political arena with international aid from the U.S. and other countries being illegally transferred into private accounts.Corruption has also added to the wide income disparity within the population.

Ethnic groups

Khmer 85.2%, Chinese 6.4%, 
Vietnamese 3%, Cham 2.5%, Lao 0.2%, other 2.3% (2000)

The History

The first advanced civilizations in present day Cambodia appeared in the 1st millennium AD. During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries AD the Indianized states of Funan and Chenla coalesced in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. These states, which are assumed by most scholars to have been Khmer, had close relations with China and India.Their collapse was followed by the rise of the Khmer Empire, a civilization which flourished in the area from the 9th century to the 13th century.

Though declining after this period, the Khmer Empire remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire's center of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's zenith. Angkor Wat, the main religious temple at the site, is a symbolic reminder of Cambodia's past as a major regional power.

After a long series of wars with neighboring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Thai and abondoned in 1432. The court moved the capital to Lovek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade. The attempt was short-lived, however, as continued wars with the Thai and Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and the conquering of Lovek in 1594. The Khmer kingdom, during the next three centuries, alternated as a vassal state of the Thai and Vietnamese kings, with short-lived periods of relative indepenence between.

In 1863 King Norodom, who had been installed by Thailand, sought the protection of France. In 1867, the Thai king signed a treaty with France, renouncing suzerainty over Cambodia in exchange for the control of Batdambang and Siem Reap Provinces which officially became part of Thailand. The provinces were ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Thailand in 1906.

During the colonial period, Cambodia was a protectorate of France from 1863 to 1953. It was administered as part of the French colony of Indochina. After war-time occupation by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945, Cambodia gained independence from France in November 1953. It become a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk.

Sihanouk quickly abdicated in favor of his father in order to be elected Prime Minister. Upon his father's death in 1960, Sihanouk again became head of state, taking the title of Prince. As the Vietnam War progressed, Sihanouk ruled Cambodia with an official policy of neutrality until ousted by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol in 1970. From Bejing, Sihanouk realigned himself with the communist Khmer Rouge rebels who had been slowly gaining territory in the remote mountain regions and urged his followers to help in overthowing the pro-United States government of Lon Nol, hastening the onset of civil war.

Operation Menu, a series of B-52 secret bombing raids by the United States on suspected Viet Cong bases and supply routes inside Cambodia, was acknowledged after Lon Nol assumed power and U.S. forces briefly invaded Cambodia with the same goal. The bombing continued and, as the Cambodian communists began gaining ground, eventually included strikes on suspected Khmer Rouge sites until halted in 1973. Estimates of the number of Cambodians killed during the bombing campaigns vary widely, from 30,000 to as high as 500,000. The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975, changing the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot.

Estimates vary as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Depending on whether or not one includes deaths from starvation and subsequent deaths in refugee camps, estimates range anywhere from 1.7 million to 3 million Cambodians. Many were in some way deemed to be "enemies of the state", whether they were linked to the previous regime, civil servants, people of education or of religion, critics of the Khmer Rouge or Marxism, or simply offered resistance to the brutal treatment of the cadres. Hundreds of thousands more fled across the border with neighbouring Thailand.

In 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge incursions across the border and the ethnic cleansing of Vietnamese in Cambodia. After the brutality of the 1970s and 1980s, and the destruction of the cultural, economic, social and political life of Cambodia, it is only in recent years that reconstruction efforts have begun and some political stability has finally returned to Cambodia

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