Cambodia ranked toward the bottom of the list in the annual World Happiness Report released this week, though it improved on its scores from earlier years.
Civil society figures said they weren’t surprised with the low grade as human rights violations, injustices and corruption play a role in assessing people’s contentment.
The Kingdom was ranked 129 out of 155 countries surveyed for the report, released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – a global initiative for the United Nations – based in New York. Norway was at the top of the list and Central African Republic last. Vietnam came in at 94 and Thailand at 32.
The report, first conducted in 2012, this year “gave special attention to the social foundations of happiness for individuals and nations”.
The ranking considered six factors, such as trust, which was measured on perceived absence of corruption in government and businesses; generosity, which was based on recent donations; freedom to make life decisions; and healthy years of life expectancy.
Some 3,000 people were surveyed in each country, and were asked to evaluate their current lives on a ladder where zero represented the worst possible life and 10 the best possible. In Cambodia, the average score for 2014-2016 was 4.168. In 2016 Cambodia ranked 140 out of 157 and in 2015 it ranked 145 out of 158.
“I’m not very surprised that the ranking for Cambodia is low, taking into consideration that good governance is a factor for happiness,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.
Factors that promote peace and happiness include good governance and social harmonisation, he said. “That would be something that I would like to recommend for the government to take a look at,” he added.
Social analyst Meas Ny had similar sentiments. “In recent years, Cambodians have faced several problems that have not been resolved by the government, people have been detained unjustly and political tensions have escalated.
“That creates unhappiness among people,” he said. “I think [the report] reflects Cambodia well.”
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the ranking didn’t reflect reality in the Kingdom. He said social advances, such as clean water, are among factors that would add joy to people’s lives.
“Everyone is happy,” he said. “They polarised Cambodia.”
He said the country had made progress on corruption with its Anti-Corruption Law and the Anti-Corruption Unit.
“We’ve improved a lot,” he said.