The Elephant & Dragon Pt.5: Independence To Civil War

by KhmerLife on May 15, 2020

The Elephant & Dragon Pt.5: Independence To Civil War

This is Part 5 in a series looking at how the relationships between Cambodia -Vietnam-Thailand have shaped history. This latest piece roughly covers events from 1947-1970, both inside and outside of the kingdom.

Post War Democracy

Democracy got off to a shaky start in post-war Cambodia. Two main parties emerged- the Liberals, a pro-French conservative group, mostly supported by the Sino-Khmer business community and old elites who advocated a gradual shift towards independence and close ties with France, and the Democrats, who looked to building a more open society and democratic reforms.

Following the premature death of Democrat leader Prince Sisowath Youthevong, a French-educated aristocrat with a genuine commitment to parliamentary democracy, in July 1947, the elected National Assembly descended into squabbling.

In September 1949, Sihanouk finally intervened and dissolved the National Assembly. Elections were to be postponed indefinitely and government was to be run by a royal council of ministers selected by the king. This was the first time since his coronation in 1941 that Sihanouk had got directly involved in politics. It was not to be his last.

This angered the Democrats and also strengthened the anti-monarchist Issaraks slowly building up forces in the north and west. Political intrigue in Bangkok had weakened the Issarak's main sponsors from Thailand and the movement split into various factions, including a Hanoi backed communist group. Several of these groups either turned to support from, or came under the direct control of, Viet-Minh agents who were keen to exploit the anti-colonialist feelings in the Cambodian countryside and open up new fronts against the French for the 'First Indochinese War'.

An important event, or a non-important one depending on one's point of view came on June 4, 1949. The French, keen to find a solution to end the First Indochinese war agreed to place a united Vietnam, which was before three separate regions of Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina, as part of the Indochinese Federation along with Laos and Cambodia.

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