The year 2023 marked two significant milestones for Cambodia, both of which were closely observed by local and international observers. First, the July 23 general election, which saw a “record” voter turnout, led to a peaceful transfer of power in both the executive and legislative bodies.

The second major event was Cambodia’s role as hosts of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and the 12th ASEAN Para Games, for the first time ever. The Kingdom was due to host the third edition of the Games – then called the South East Asian Peninsular Games – in 1963, but had to withdraw due to the political situation at the time. The huge regional sporting events were huge successes, with many of the attendees referring to them as “the best games ever”. 

Smooth transfer of power

The July 23 general election saw the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) securing 120 out of the total 125 seats within the National Assembly (NA), with the royalist FUNCINPEC winning the remaining five.

Over 8.2 million people headed to the polls, with the CPP receiving over 6.3 million votes and FUNCINPEC over 710,000. 

After the National Election Committee (NEC) announced the formal outcome of the election, the NA gave Manet a vote of confidence to become prime minister of the 7th-mandate government on August 22. The Council of Ministers, made up of 10 deputy prime ministers and 51 senior ministers and ministers, was also elected, with many new appointments from among the younger generation of CPP members. 

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that in 2023, many local and international politicians and political observers had closely followed developments, particularly what some branded as the “historic political succession” of the CPP after the July national election. 

He explained that for hundreds of years, Cambodia had failed to achieve a peaceful transfer of power until 2023, when the CPP demonstrated a smooth transfer of power. 

Peou described this as the most important event of the year for Cambodia, noting that despite the transfer of leadership, the party maintained social stability, peace and security for the people, along with continued development.

As of now, it has been over four months since the Manet administration was inaugurated.

“The smooth transfer of power made Cambodia’s political leadership stronger. The country managed to build its resilience amid changes to the world order, as well as the backdrop of global chaos caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Development assured

After receiving a unanimous vote by the NA, Manet assured the lawmakers that the first phase of his Pentagonal Strategy aimed to guarantee peace, stability, security and public order for the people, while stimulating the economy in all sectors.

Government spokesman Pen Bona told The Post that the Pentagon Strategy-Phase I is already being implemented. And the six-point party platform launched by Manet has now been put into practice.

“We have delivered on our election promises. When we promised the people, we acted. This is one of the prime minister’s guiding principles,” he said.

The closing ceremony of the 32nd SEA Games at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district on May 17, 2023.Hong Menea

He added the first phase of the Pentagonal Strategy will continue to be implemented throughout next year, and will benefit the people, especially the poor and vulnerable. Their livelihoods will be improved, in line with the government’s goal of the Kingdom achieving an upper-middle income status by 2030 and high-income status by 2050. 

In 2024, the government is set to earmark over $9 billion to social affairs, education, vocational training and healthcare, among other areas. Over $8 billion will be spent at the national level, with the remainder set to be allocated at the sub-national level.

Approval for foreign policy

Thong Mengdavid, a research supervisor at the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), described Cambodia’s foreign policy under the new leadership of Manet as “active, dynamic, cooperative and strategic”. The new prime minister’s frequent missions abroad are an “excellent sign” of a healthy and stable government, and demonstrate the strong support of many foreign governments for the maturity and legitimacy of Cambodian democracy, he added.

He said that since Manet’s ascension to power in late August, Cambodia has done a great job in promoting a well-balanced, smart and pragmatic foreign policy. For instance, Manet used his address to the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA) to reiterate the Kingdom’s pursuit of peace, rules-based international systems and multilateralism. 

“Regarding the Russia-Ukraine War, Myanmar crisis and Gaza conflict, Cambodia will continue to work with major powers and regional and international organisations to ensure that in 2024, ceasefire and peaceful negotiation between conflicted parties will be implemented and humanitarian corridors opened,” Mengdavid told The Post. 

He said that to promote and strengthen economic diplomacy, during his missions abroad, Manet showcased Cambodia’s development and growth to steer up more investment cooperation, promote trade activities and strengthen government to government relations.

“I strongly believe that now is a turning point for Cambodia’s foreign policy. It can promote peace through economic and cultural diplomacy to enhance its partnerships with other countries, promote tourism and people-to-people exchanges and strengthen military capacity. It can do this based on mutual respect, win-win cooperation and mutual benefits for all countries,” he added.

Resounding success of games

During the May SEA Games, Cambodia set a new record, winning the most ever gold, silver and bronze medals in its history. The athletes of Team Cambodia claimed 81 gold, 74 silver and 127 bronze, the highest total since Cambodia first took part in the first SEA Games in 1961. 

Yang Peou described the hosting of the SEA Games as a “remarkable, unprecedented” success. And in another first for the biggest regional sporting event, the Kingdom provided accommodation and meals to each of the visiting athletes and their teams, entirely free of charge.