Cambodia officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia and once known as the, Khmer Empire is a country located in the southern portion of the Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its total landmass is 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 sq mi), bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Thailand to the southwest.
Cambodia has a population of around 15.7 million. The official religion is Theravada, practised by approximately 95 percent of the population. The country’s minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham and 30 hill tribes. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia. The kingdom is a Constitutional Manarchy with King Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. The head of government is Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, who is currently the longest serving non-royal leaders in South East Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over 25 years.
In 802 AD, Jayavarman II declared himself king, uniting the warring Khmer princes of Chenla under the name “Kambuja”. This marked the beginning of the Khmer Empire which flourished for over 600 years, allowing successive kings to control and exert influence over much of Southeast Asia and accumulate immense power and wealth. The Indianized Kingdom built monumental temples including Angkor Wat, now a World Heritage site, and facilitated the spread of first Hinduism, then Buddhism to much of Southeast Asia.
Drought, population pressures and the failure of Angkor’s complex hydrological system coincided with the rise of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in present-day Thailand. A series of conflicts with this ascendant power in the 14th and 15th centuries hastened Angkor’s demise, and by 1431, the city had been ransacked and largely abandoned. The next four centuries are commonly referred to as Cambodia’s ‘Dark Ages’. After the fall of Angkor to Ayutthya Kingdom in the 15th century, a reduced and weakened Cambodia was then ruled as a Vassal State by its neighbours. In 1863 Cambodia became a protectorate of France which doubled the size of the country by reclaiming the north and west from Thailand.
Cambodia gained independence in 1953. The Vietnam war extended into the country with the US bombing of Cambodia from Operation menu until Operation Freedom Deal. Following the Cambodian coup of 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge emerged as a major power, taking Phnom Penh in 1975 and later carrying out the Cambodian Genocide for almost 4 years. Under the regime, urbanites, artists, intellectuals and ethnic minorities were systematically eliminated as the communists sought to transform Cambodia into a Maoist agrarian utopia. An estimated 2.2 million people (about a quarter of the population) were dead by the end of the regime’s rule as a result of starvation, disease or execution.
Until early 1979, the Khmer Rouge was ousted by Vietnam and the Vietnamese backed People Republic of Kampuchea in the Cambodian-Vietnamese war (1979-91). Following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords Cambodia was governed briefly by a United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia (1992-93). The UN withdrew after holding elections in which around 90 percent of the registered voters cast ballots. The 1997 clashes in Cambodia placed power solely in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party, who remain in power as of 2016. However, in the country’s 2013 election, CPP hegemony was challenged for the first time in 15 years. Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made huge gains in the country’s 103-seat parliament, riding a wave of youth support. The next national elections, scheduled for 2018, may well be another turning point for the Kingdom.
While per capita income remains low compared to most neighboring countries, Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia with growth averaging 6 percent over the last decade. Agriculture remains the dominant economic sector, with strong growth in textiles, construction, garments, and tourism leading to increased foreign investment and international trade.