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Cambodia: Who Do the Lower Ranks of the Military Support? By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0021/ 2015

Q1. After Cambodia’s 2013 national election, Kem Sokha, Vice President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said that some 70 percent of the armed forces voted for the CNRP, particularly the lower-level ranks. To what extent do you think the government here would be concerned about a loss of support among the lower-level ranks as Cambodia moves through the 2010s, or do you think this is Sokha’s hot air?

ANSWER: It is not possible to determine the exact percentage of vote the CNRP received from low-level ranks but that does not mean that a rough order of magnitude cannot be estimated. The government would be very concerned if the opposition implemented a long-term program to win over the lower ranks. Such a program could follow UNTAC’s [United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] information campaign of 1993 to convince voters that their ballots were in fact secret. Kem Sokha’s comments are likely to be a ploy to convince the public that the CNRP has public support and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is not invincible.

Q2. How important is it for the government to maintain support of the lower-level ranks of the military in the context of Cambodia’s political situation since 2013? Most of the top-level in the military have roots going back to the 1980s, but would a loss of support among the masses of security forces threaten the CPP’s position of strength?

ANSWER: The government would be very concerned by the loss of support from the lower ranks for two reasons. The first is that the lower ranks might baulk if ordered to use deadly force against public protests. The second reason is that the lower ranks might support a high-ranking officer who took a popular position against the ruling government at some crucial juncture.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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