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A Comparative Analysis of Cambodia’s History and Bangladesh’s Upcoming Elections

A Comparative Analysis of Cambodia’s History and Bangladesh’s Upcoming Elections

As Bangladesh stands on the precipice of its 12th National Assembly elections, the political landscape seems to be traversing a trajectory eerily reminiscent of Cambodia’s complex electoral history. The echoes of Cambodia’s past, marked by authoritarian rule, opposition suppression, and contentious electoral maneuvers, reverberate through the unfolding events in Bangladesh. In this critical juncture, it becomes imperative to scrutinize the historical underpinnings of Cambodia’s elections and draw instructive parallels with the upcoming polls in Bangladesh. This article seeks to unravel the potential consequences and far-reaching implications of adopting a political model akin to Cambodia’s, shedding light on the intricate intersections of history, politics, and the impending electoral process in Bangladesh.

Cambodia, over the decades, has been grappling with a political narrative dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authoritative rule since 1985. The intricate dance between power and opposition has been punctuated by a series of elections where allegations of electoral manipulation, suppression of dissent, and opposition bans have become defining features. As Bangladesh moves towards its own electoral milestone, it is prudent to explore the nuances of Cambodia’s historical context and discern whether similar patterns are emerging within the unfolding political drama in Bangladesh.

The trajectory of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party, formed in 2013 through the merger of key opposition parties, provides a cautionary tale. The subsequent crackdown on opposition leaders, their imprisonment, and the ultimate ban of the National Rescue Party in the lead-up to the 2018 elections draw striking parallels to the current state of political affairs in Bangladesh. With opposition leaders facing arrests and affiliations like Jubo League advocating for the ban of key political entities, the echoes of Cambodia’s political playbook appear to be growing louder in the corridors of Bangladesh’s political arena.

As we dissect the potential ramifications of adopting a political model resembling Cambodia’s, the economic challenges faced by Bangladesh cast a looming shadow. With declining GDP, import-export struggles, and rising unemployment, the decision to steer towards a one-sided election despite calls for fairness raises concerns about the parallel economic crises that may unfold, mirroring Cambodia’s own challenges in navigating economic stability amidst political upheaval. Through the lens of history, this exploration aims to unravel the intricate interplay between political decisions, historical echoes, and the fragile economic fabric of Bangladesh as it approaches a pivotal electoral juncture.

The Cambodian Electoral Landscape:

1. Hun Sen’s Authoritarian Rule:

The entrenched political landscape of Cambodia bears the indelible imprint of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authoritarian rule, a tenure that commenced in 1985 and has since endured through a series of electoral triumphs. Hun Sen’s leadership has been characterized by a distinctive blend of longevity and a proclivity for employing repressive measures to secure electoral victories. The electoral processes under his stewardship have often been marred by allegations of manipulation, giving rise to an environment where the democratic principles of a fair and competitive political arena appear compromised.

In the context of Bangladesh’s evolving political narrative, there is an unsettling echo of Cambodia’s historical trajectory. The Awami League’s current approach, reminiscent of Hun Sen’s tactics, raises concerns about the sidelining of opposition voices and the potential erosion of democratic norms. The conspicuous absence of major opposition parties, particularly the noteworthy exclusion of BNP from the electoral landscape, mirrors Cambodia’s historical suppression of dissent to ensure the ruling party’s dominance. The parallels between these two political landscapes underscore the need for Bangladesh to critically examine the implications of adopting such strategies and their potential ramifications for the democratic fabric of the nation.

As the Awami League’s strategies align with elements of Hun Sen’s authoritarian rule, Bangladesh finds itself at a crossroads where the historical echoes of Cambodia’s political journey serve as a cautionary backdrop. The central question emerges: can Bangladesh navigate its electoral future while preserving the tenets of a robust and inclusive democracy, or will it succumb to a path that mirrors Cambodia’s challenges, marked by an erosion of democratic values and fair political competition? The resonance between these two electoral landscapes highlights the urgency for introspection and a commitment to upholding democratic principles amid the unfolding political dynamics.

2. Opposition Suppression and Bans:

The pages of Cambodia’s electoral history turned particularly contentious with the formation of the National Rescue Party in 2013, a significant merger of two main opposition parties. However, this hopeful venture towards a more robust democratic landscape was short-lived. Subsequent to the party’s emergence, opposition leaders found themselves subjected to a series of arrests and harsh sentences, ultimately culminating in the outright ban of the National Rescue Party just ahead of the 2018 elections. This dramatic turn of events showcased a stark suppression of opposition voices, leaving the political arena bereft of a significant counterforce.

Alarming parallels emerge in Bangladesh as the ruling Awami League exhibits a strikingly similar desire to dismantle the opposition. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), a key political entity, has found itself in the crosshairs of a political climate marked by arrests and calls for bans. This apparent campaign to disband the opposition, notably mirrored in the directives and demands of affiliated organizations such as Jubo League, raises concerns about the integrity of the upcoming elections. The echoes of Cambodia’s suppression tactics resonate in Bangladesh’s political landscape, underscoring a pattern where opposition figures are targeted and the democratic process is seemingly manipulated to secure a one-sided outcome.

The echoes of opposition suppression in both Cambodia and Bangladesh emphasize the critical importance of a fair and inclusive electoral process. The fate of the National Rescue Party in Cambodia serves as a poignant reminder of how the elimination of opposition entities can compromise the democratic essence of a nation. As Bangladesh navigates its own political crossroads, the world watches closely to discern whether it will chart a path towards a robust democratic future or mirror the suppression tactics witnessed in Cambodia’s recent electoral history.

Bangladesh’s Path to Elections:

3. Economic Challenges and Political Landscape:

The confluence of economic challenges and the unfolding political landscape in Bangladesh has cast a looming shadow over the nation’s future. A notable decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), coupled with struggles in the import-export sector and a concurrent rise in unemployment, paints a bleak economic picture. Against this backdrop, the decision to proceed with a one-sided election raises apprehensions about the potential exacerbation of Bangladesh’s existing economic crises. As the nation grapples with these challenges, the interconnectedness of economic stability and political decisions comes to the fore.

The economic downturn, marked by declining GDP and a slump in import-export activities, underscores the fragility of Bangladesh’s economic landscape. The decision to push forward with a one-sided election, despite mounting domestic and international pressures for a fair and inclusive process, adds a layer of complexity to an already intricate scenario. Observers and economists alike express genuine fears that Bangladesh might be charting a course akin to Cambodia’s recent history, where a one-sided election was accompanied by a deepening economic crisis.

The parallels between the economic challenges faced by Cambodia in the aftermath of its political decisions and the current trajectory in Bangladesh are hard to ignore. The specter of a one-sided election, if materialized, could potentially result in a further downturn, impacting various sectors of the economy. As Bangladesh approaches this critical juncture, the delicate balance between political stability and economic resilience comes sharply into focus, prompting a collective call for a comprehensive and balanced approach that safeguards both the democratic principles and economic well-being of the nation.

4. Hun Sen Model Parallels:

The political landscape in Bangladesh has raised eyebrows among observers, drawing striking parallels with Cambodia’s enduring leader, Hun Sen. Notably, the ruling party in Bangladesh appears to be mirroring Hun Sen’s playbook by expressing a distinct preference for a one-sided election. This strategic maneuver entails sidelining opposition parties, creating an environment that paves the way for an uncontested victory. As the echoes of Cambodia’s political strategy reverberate, concerns mount about the potential erosion of democratic principles and the stifling of diverse voices in the electoral process.

The resonance with Hun Sen’s model becomes more pronounced as affiliated organizations, such as Jubo League, echo calls for the ban of key opposition entities, most notably the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This closely aligns with Cambodia’s historical suppression of opposition parties perceived as challenging the ruling party’s dominance. Jubo League’s efforts to sideline BNP by advocating for a ban mark a concerning parallel, signaling a consolidation of power akin to Cambodia’s political landscape.

 Observers keenly note these similarities, underscoring the potential risks associated with adopting a political model that sidelines opposition voices and leans towards a one-sided electoral victory. The unfolding events draw attention to the delicate balance between upholding democratic values and the pursuit of unchecked power, raising questions about the future trajectory of Bangladesh’s political and electoral landscape. As the nation navigates these intricate dynamics, the specter of the Hun Sen model looms large, prompting a critical examination of the principles guiding the democratic process and the implications of veering towards a path that mirrors Cambodia’s historical challenges.

Comparative Perspectives:

5. Rule by Law vs. Rule of Law:

The heart of Cambodia’s electoral model lies in a delicate balance between the appearance of legitimacy and the simultaneous suppression of opposition—a nuanced dance between “rule by law” rather than the cherished principle of the “rule of law.” This dichotomy raises fundamental questions about the integrity of the democratic process, as it suggests that legal frameworks are wielded not to serve the needs of the country but rather to fulfill the political ambitions of those in power. The orchestrated emphasis on legitimacy becomes a guise, concealing the erosion of democratic values and the stifling of political pluralism.

Distinguished Professor Ali Riaz, a scholar well-versed in political nuances, dismisses the likelihood of Bangladesh replicating the Cambodian model. His stance is grounded in the acknowledgment of historical differences and the economic interdependence Bangladesh shares with the Western world. Riaz contends that the creation of a “King’s Party” and the exertion of pressure for orchestrated elections, as witnessed in Cambodia, is less likely to find a parallel in Bangladesh’s political landscape. The historical context, intertwined with Bangladesh’s economic linkages with the Western world, provides a unique backdrop that distinguishes it from Cambodia’s trajectory.

The juxtaposition of these perspectives raises critical questions about the trajectory each nation is willing to take in the pursuit of governance. While Cambodia’s model hints at a manipulation of legal frameworks for political gain, Bangladesh’s distinct historical and economic context, as highlighted by Professor Ali Riaz, may serve as a deterrent against embracing a similar approach. As both nations grapple with the complexities of their electoral processes, the tension between rule by law and the foundational principles of the rule of law becomes a pivotal focal point, influencing the democratic character and future trajectories of these nations.

6. International Pressure and Economic Fallout:

The intricate dance between international pressure and economic repercussions unfolds as Bangladesh finds itself on the precipice of both geopolitical scrutiny and potential economic fallout. Recent policies emanating from the United States, which concentrate on labor rights and worker empowerment, cast shadows over Bangladesh’s crucial export sector, particularly the garment industry. The nation, heavily reliant on exports, faces the imminent threat of economic strain as the U.S. asserts its commitment to upholding international labor standards. The focus on labor rights becomes a potential point of contention that may reverberate through Bangladesh’s economic corridors.

The parallels with Cambodia’s historical experience become more pronounced when considering the potential for economic restrictions in the aftermath of the upcoming elections. Similar to the challenges faced by Cambodia post-election, Bangladesh, too, must tread cautiously to navigate potential economic restrictions that might follow a one-sided electoral outcome. The need to carefully manage international relations, particularly with economic stakeholders, becomes paramount. Cambodia’s history serves as a stark reminder of how international scrutiny, when coupled with economic repercussions, can severely impact a nation’s stability.

As the United States emphasizes its commitment to workers’ rights and international labor laws, Bangladesh faces a delicate balancing act. The potential economic fallout, especially in the garment sector, is not merely a theoretical concern but a tangible risk that demands astute diplomatic and economic navigation. The lessons from Cambodia underscore the significance of robust international relations, particularly in a globalized economy, where economic stability is intricately linked with adherence to democratic values and fair electoral practices. As Bangladesh charts its course in the upcoming elections, the international stage becomes a critical arena, where the interplay between political decisions and economic consequences will shape the nation’s future.


As Bangladesh stands at the crossroads of its electoral journey, the shadows of Cambodia’s political landscape loom large, inviting a critical reflection on the potential ramifications of emulating a model marked by historical complexities. The lessons drawn from Cambodia’s turbulent electoral history serve as a poignant reminder of the imperative to foster fair and inclusive elections, uphold the sanctity of the rule of law, and address economic challenges with sagacity for sustainable governance in Bangladesh.

The echoes of Cambodia’s political trajectory underscore the profound significance of fair electoral practices. As history has shown, the suppression of opposition voices, manipulation of legal frameworks, and sidelining of democratic principles can lead to severe consequences, both politically and economically. Bangladesh finds itself at a pivotal moment where the government’s decisions carry the weight of historical parallels, inviting scrutiny on the international stage.

To navigate these intricate dynamics, the government must carefully weigh the lessons learned from Cambodia against the unique context of Bangladesh. The emphasis on fostering fair elections, respecting the rule of law, and addressing economic challenges becomes not just a prescription for political stability but a mandate for sustainable governance. As the nation approaches the upcoming elections, the government’s decisions will be scrutinized not only for their immediate impact on the political landscape but also for their long-term implications on economic stability and international relations.

In charting the course for the future, Bangladesh stands to benefit from a judicious consideration of historical parallels, global perspectives, and economic intricacies. The stakes are high, and the nation’s ability to embrace democratic values while navigating the challenges of the modern political landscape will undoubtedly shape its trajectory in the years to come.

Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain, a seasoned professional with a Master's degree in Mathematics, has built a rich and varied career as a banker, economist, and anti-money laundering expert. His journey in the financial sector has seen him in leading roles, notably in AL-Rajhi Banking Inc. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as Foreign Relations and Correspondent Maintenance Officer of Bank-AL-Bilad. Beyond the confines of traditional finance, Billal has emerged as a prominent writer and commentator, contributing thought-provoking columns and theses to various newspapers and online portals. His expertise spans a wide range of important global issues, including the complexities of economics, political dynamics, the plight of migrant workers, remittances, reserves, and other interrelated aspects. Billal brings a unique analytical perspective to his writing, combining academic rigor with practical insights gained from his banking career. His articles not only demonstrate a deep understanding of complex issues but also provide readers with informed perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. Billal Hossain's contributions stand as a testament to his commitment to unraveling the complexities of our interconnected world, providing valuable insights that contribute to a broader and more nuanced understanding of the global economic landscape.


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