|King Sihanouk and French Officers|
|King Sihanouk and his militias searched for Vietminh troop|
Cambodia was bestowed under French protectorate when its leaders were unable to safeguard it from continuous onslaughts of its two powerful neighbors--Vietnam and Thailand. "The colonial era began without a shot and in a very tentative way" said, David Chandler, an Academic Historian. King Norodom, a Thai's protege, concluded a treaty with French officers in 1863 without Thai's knowledge, and the treaty was ratified by the French Government in Paris early 1864--it was too late to react when Thailand found out later. Under the French protectorate, Cambodia received both positive and negative effects. Positively, the French provided Cambodia full protection, introduced land reforms, ideas of democracy, judicial system, technology, and abolished slavery. However, there were much more negative effects than positive ones: the French ceded parts of Khmer territory to Vietnam, imposed heavy taxes on people, plundered Khmer natural resources to enrich themselves, destroyed Khmer Language, new democracy, and refused to grant full independence to Khmer Nationalists. Cambodia independence was not easily and freely granted by the French but by relentless struggles of our Khmer Heroes and most of them left out without recognition.
After the end of World War II, independence movements sprang up all over the world. In Indochina, the struggles for independence spread throughout the three countries from many different groups of nationalist, Communist, monarchist, and democrat. In Cambodia, the combined forces of nationalist and democrat group was a spearhead of a struggle for independence followed by the communist and monarchist groups. When the World War was over, the French started to loosen its power grip to all people in their colonies. exclusively, in 1946, the French allowed a first democratic election on our country to choose the constituent assembly. Three political parties were emerged led by three princes: Prince Sisowat Yuthevong, a father of Khmer Democracy, was a honored president of a Democratic Party, the most popular party in that time; a Liberal Party led by Prince Norodom Narindeth and a Progressive Party led by Prince Norodom Monthana. Although the three princes had different political ideologies, but they shared the same loyalty to a throne and the same concern to the growing power of Khmer Vietminh (the Communist party created by Ho Chi Minh in1930 to liberate the whole Indochina from the French).
The Democratic Party which led by many famous Khmer Democrats and Nationalists including Mr. Chearn Vom, Eve Koeus, Mr. Son Sann, and strongly supported from people across the country--Buddhist monks, scholars, students, peasants, and some urban elites--won landslide victory in the first ever election in the country history. The Democrat won 50 seats out of 67 seats; the Liberal won 14, and the other won 3 seats. The Democrats who strongly demanded full independence and promoted democracy for the country, rejected the French proposed constitution and created their own one. And a general election based on the new constitution was held in 1947, The Democrat won majority again: The party won 54 out of 75 total seats , and the other won 21 seats. That the first time in history, Cambodia was run by a democratic elected Prime Minister, Prince Sisowat Yuthevong, and Mr. Eve Koeus was elected as the president of the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the french did not relinquish much of power to the newly elected government. At the same year, Prime Minister Prince Yuthevong was dead, and a misery of his dead never fully explained by the French Authorities. Then, Mr. Chearn Vom, a party founder, was appointed as a new prime minister, but in 1948, because of corruption scandal involved with three members of his ruling party, Mr. Chearn Vom resigned, and King Shihanouk appointed Mr. Yem Sambo as a new prime minister. This is a good practice of democracy when scandals happen among the ruling party members, their leader must resign to accept their fault and responsibility. But this kind of practice has never happened in Hun Sen's Regime over the past 34 years despite countless corruption scandals surrounded his government.
In 1949, the french agreed to create a committee to negotiate for full independence led by former prime Minister Chearn Vom. As negotiation was continuing, Khmer delegation abruptly cancelled all negotiations with the French in Phnom Penh in protest after they learned "a shock news" that the French government had decided to hand over Kampuchea Krom to Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai. The French feared the Communist Vietminh would take over the whole Vietnam after the Chinese Communists won a resolute victory over the Nationalist Government. The French strategy is to use the South Vietnamese against the Communist Vietminh in the North by rewarding the Emperor with a wast land of Khmer territory, Kampuchea Krom and numerous islands. Then, the Khmer delegation had no choice but continued to negotiate with the French Government about a fate of Kampuchea Krom in Paris. The delegation led by Mr. Chearn Vom and Mr. Son Sann presented three key demands to the French Government: (1) Khmer Krom must have full right to keep their national identity, language, religion, and culture as distinct people. (2) Postpone a transfer of Kampuchea Krom to Bao Dai and correct border demarcations according to natural and physical boundaries along with Vinh Te Canal built by Khmer as a boundary line. (3) Keep Mekong River as an international water route.
A good news is that the French Senate fully supported these demands, and the French Government needed a final approval from senate on a matter of Kampuchea Krom status. But while debate was continuing in the Senate, a french Diplomat in Phnom Penh sent a telegram to the senate to cancel the debate about Kampuchea Krom status, for an agreement had been reached by the French officials and Khmer Government in Phnom Penh. Meanwhile, when Khmer Delegates returned to a hotel room, they also received a telegram from Prime Minister Yem Sambo terminated their mission. Then a fate of Khmer Krom was over; Some sources claimed that King Sihanouk had a collusion with the French to swap Kampuchea Krom with full guaranteed independence for Cambodia. However, there was no reliable sources to confirm that but the circumstance might prove itself despite King Sihanouk was not solely responsible for a loss of Kampuchea Krom. King Sihanouk and his government seemed well collaborate with the French authorities while the Democrats firmly demanded immediate and full independence through peaceful and even violent means. The French neither wanted the Khmer Vietminh nor the Democrat to run a future independence government but King Sihanouk, their first handpick. The French wanted to maintain their friendly governments in the three Indochina countries before they left. As the French increased their animosity toward the Democrats, they tried to use the king to weaken or to eliminate them from a political stage. In September 1949, King Sihanouk dissolved the parliament and postponed the constitution by ordering the French and Marocan troops to surround the parliament building. Some called the king's action as a constitutional coup against the elected Democrat majority. The Democrat's struggle for independence through their legitimate voices in the parliament completely failed since the French never let Khmer Parliament unilaterally declared independence.
Between 1949 to 1951, the country was run without parliament and constitution, and the king
briefly ran the government by himself. On July 1951, the second general election took place; the Democrat, yet a viable and popular force, won 55 seats out of 78 seats. The continuous victory on the poll by the Democrats made the king formidable and nervous as he had planned to enter politics in the future. The newly elected Democrat Members strongly rejected a partial independence granted by the french, and they insisted full independence without conditions while some frustrated members turned to violent mean by joining an armed struggle with Khmer Isarak. As the Democrats were still the lame ducks in the parliament, King Sihanouk saw a susceptible opportunity to jump into politics. In 1952, he announced " a Royal Crusade" to struggle for independence; numerous people across the country joined this movement including the Royal Armed forces. King Sihanouk openly called for all Khmer to stand up against foreign invaders--the French and the Vietminh troops. Finally, the French had no alternative choice but granted full independence to Cambodia under King Sihanouk leadership rather than under the Democrats or the Communist Khmer Vietminh who had professed animosity towards them more than the King. On November 9, 1953, after nearly a century under the French Protectorate, Cambodia became an independence state for the first time over 500 years since the end of Angkorean Era.
On April 1954, the Geneva Conference on Indochina war was held by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council including all involved countries and Cambodia, but the big five powers disagreed over many issues. The US, which would not sign an agreement at the end, wanted all the three Indochina countries to be a separate independent and non-Communist states. While the Soviet supported Hanoi's policy to rule Indochina alone as the Communist Indochina Federation. Nevertheless, China and France had some common grounds when they wanted peace and separate independent states no matter Communist or non-Communist. China did not want to see the Indochina Countries become close allies with the Soviet or the US in the future but the peaceful, neutral, and cooperated countries behind its backyard. Beijing's foreign policy never let Hanoi control over Indochina; any greater and stronger Vietnam will pose a great threat to China's security from the South while it is already facing Russia on the North, Japan on the East, and India on the West. The fight among the big powers in the Geneva Conference produced a favorable result for Cambodia, for it received full independence without partisan and continuous wars as compared with Vietnam and Laos.
In conclusion, Khmer independence was achieved by many factors, but publicly, people do not receive full story and images of the struggles for independence. In deed, we recognize a great Royal Crusade and a leadership of King Sihanouk over a cause of the independence, but he was not an initiator or a spearhead of the struggle. Virtually, he just jumped in to reap victory when time is suitable. The Khmer Nationalists and Democrats, who had tirelessly and bravely struggled for independence, were left out and persecuted later. All these Khmer Heroes had sacrificed their energies and lives for the cause of Khmer independence without full recognition. By the end of 1955, the Democratic Party and its members--the backbone of Khmer democracy-- ceased to exist in a political stage, for the new independent government they had sacrificed for turned against them, and set a precedence for autocratic rule until today. However, we should not use this argument to stoke among Khmer when current situation demands all Khmer to unite against Hanoi which has covertly colonized our country via its proxy CPP.