Background Brief:Cambodia: Prospects for PoliticalInstabilityCarlyle A. ThayerJuly 28, 2012
[client name deleted]Q1. As Cambodians have much higher standards of living now than they did in recentmemory, do you think this makes them much less likely to want to fight against thegovernment in some sort of organised fashion? Why/why not?ANSWER: There are several social science theories that address this question. Theone I favour is relative depravation. It uses two variables - capacity and expectations.Usually expectations are higher than a person's capacity. You can view them as tworising parallel lines. The older your get the more you earn and your expectationsincrease about your standard of living etc. Rebellion breaks out when these two linessuddenly diverge. One pattern is rising expectations. If they increase markedly andcapacity remains the same these can produce instability in society. The other is the J-curve. A sharp deterioration in capacity will lead to rebellion. Cambodia is notexhibiting either of these trends. Cambodia is what is termed a low qualitydemocracy. It holds elections but the political culture is not truly liberal democratic. Ido not think conditions have reached the point where an uprising or significantviolence is likely.Q2. What is anything could make Cambodians revolt or stage protests?ANSWER: Cambodia is more likely to experience political protests than a revolt.Political protests have been a feature of Cambodia since the United Nationsdeparted. This is one means for the opposition political parties and their supportersto protest a particular grievance. Protests have and are likely to arise over landissues, wages and working conditions in factories, and over incidents involving ethnicVietnamese. A revolt is unlikely - no ethnic minority socio-economic class or politicalparty is being ruthlessly repressed. Revolts tend to occur when there is noalternative.Q3. Very few Cambodians are social media users, due to low rates of Internetpenetration. Do you think that some sort of social revolution might become morelikely in the future as more people get online?ANSWER: Literacy and Internet usage are closely related. If Cambodia over produceseducated secondary and tertiary level students who are underemployed orunemployed, it is likely the Internet will facilitate networking. This could sparkprotest blogs and copycat behaviour based on social protests outside Cambodia.
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