Lecture 6: Cambodia at the time of the Democratic Party : 1946-1953.
From Haèm Chieu to the
I - The interrogations & trial of Haèm Chieu,
Nuong Duong, Pach Chhœun & others
Hem Chieu and Nuon Duong had been sent to the Ph. P.
Prison Centrale, where they were interrogated. They were later
joined by Pach Chhœun.
• After 10 days Haèm Chieu and Nuon Duong were put in
handcuffs and taken by car to a ship sailing to Prey Nokor.
They were put into the Prison Centrale in Saigon. Bunchan Mol
and Venerable Pang Khat were sent from P.P. and put into the
same prison. They met there 7 or 8 soldiers who had been
brought from other detention centres along with Pach
• Conditions in Prey Nokor prison were much better than in
Ph. P. “Achar Haèm Chieu was there, and still preaching; he was the
best, the number one preacher among the preacher monks.” [Kuy Lôt,
32-36] Although Haèm Chieu had been disrobed, he still
considered himself a monk. Not only did he preach to the
prison inmates, but he practiced the eight basic precepts and
he would refuse to eat after noon.
Viet revolutionaries in Saigon Prison centrale
• Bunchan Mol explains that the Viet prisoners living in the same
ward were not like the Khmers: they had been politically
educated for some time. They treated one another as brothers
and encouraged one another to struggle hard to free their
• Achar Haèm Chieu and Nuon Duong were put with them and
were able to learn much from them. Capital punishment was
usually carried out at 5 a.m. The victims would call out their
farewells to their compatriot friends: “Dear friends of common blood!
We are going to die, all our friends please remember to continue the struggle
until it is successful”. Then they would sing songs and shout: “ Long
live Ho Chi Minh, Long live Ho Chi Minh!” Then all would stand to
attention in respect for the souls of the heroes who were going
to die. This kind of hero worship for those who had sacrificed
themselves for the Revolution was to become the new religion
under Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 to 1979.
Monireth & the Independence movement
• What is certain from the French investigation was that the
‘plot’ or attempt at bringing independence to Cambodia,
was only in its infancy. It had been devised only a few
months before by a small group of men. Who was at the
head of the movement?
• If we read certain declarations of Haèm Chieu, it is
clearly the 33-year-old Prince Sisowath Monireth.
• But at other times, he insists that the person at the head
of the movement wished to remain in the shadows and
no one knew his identity. At other times, Haèm Chieu and
others claimed it was a “Cambodian magistrate” who also
remained prudently in the background – and this was of
course Son Ngoc Thanh.
Monireth’s career (1909-1975-76)
• At 25, created the original Cambodian Scout movement
Angkar Khamarak Kayarith in 1934, that spread over several
provinces and numbered more than 1,000 members.
• One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to create the
first modern Cambodian army, plus officers’ school.
Having won the consent of the French, who had just
returned to power in Cambodia after the defeat of the
Japanese in World War II, Monireth succeeded in forming
those out of former colonial army.
• In later years, Prince Monireth temporarily acted as Head
of State from April 6 to June 13, 1960 in his capacity as
chairman of the Regency Council.
• 3rd PM of Cambodia from17 Oct. 1945 – 15 Dec. 1946,
succeeded Son Ngoc Thanh as PM & was succeeded by
Prince Sisowath Youtevong
Monireth – 2
• Was there or was there not a “Monireth Affair? I have found
no clear answer in the French military archives. It seems, from
the French archives, that in the end, he was not in fact
involved. All we can say is that, at the time, there were many
Khmers who wished that he had been involved, and this is of
great significance, even if he had done nothing at that stage.
• Nhem Phuong, who divulged the conspiracy to the colonial
police, claimed that his fellow soldiers believed that Prince S.
Monireth was at the head of the movement and they rejected
the idea that it was Son Ngoc Thanh. Another important
witness, Chum Muong, told H. C. that Prince Monireth was at
the head of the plan to rebel against the French.
• Muong managed to escape after the arrest of H. C. and was
sentenced to death in absentia. His nationalist views were wellknown and he was closely associated with Nagaravatta. He was
a close friend of H. C. from early childhood as they came
from the same district and were related.
Monireth – 3
• Haèm Chieu admitted that he was not really certain if Prince
Monireth was at the head of the conspiracy or if some, like
his friend Chum Muong, made others believe that Monireth was
involved so that it would be easier to gain followers among the
military, as the Prince was so popular.
• The Prince himself is a particularly tragic figure when we
conjure up the image of a dignified old man, wearing all his
French medals, passing the fatal gate of the French embassy
in April 1975, just after the Khmer Rouge takeover, after
being denied admittance, walking past to his death. A Prince
who should have been at the centre stage of Cambodian
politics was fated to be brushed aside: Fate in the shape of
Admiral Jean Decoux, in 1941, Fate in the shape of the
ominous and ruthless Angkar in 1975.
The plight of Monireth - 4
• All we can say for sure is that after the failure of the
plot, Admiral Jean Decoux exiled Monireth to Tong in
Tonkin with the French Foreign Legion. The Prince
later refused to be attached to Decoux’s cabinet in
Gialong Palace in Hanoi. He was repatriated to
Cambodia but kept under house arrest in Kampot,
under surveillance of the French police who kept a
close watch on his few visitors. He was only liberated
after the 9th March 1945 Japanese coup, and the first
months of “Cambodian independence”, when he
became an advisor to the first Cambodian
Pach Chhœun (1896-1971-75)
• Pach Chhœun could have been the best political brain of the socalled plotters (Son Ngo Thanh, Sim Var, Nuon Duong and Bun
Chamnol). He put a very sensible argument for the Cambodian
decision to act: he was by then (around May 1942) convinced that
the Thai fascists and collaborationists with Japan and Nazi
Germany would not stop at Battambang and Siemreap and were
about to conquer the whole of Cambodia west of the Mekong
river. He had heard that the Thais were gathering troops at
Aranyaprathet. The great river was going to be an international
border, as it was between Laos and Thailand.
• His Nagaravatta bi-weekly was then in great difficulties. It had
been closed for a month from April 1942 by the censors, and P.C.
the founder and editor, had been – very likely wrongly – accused
of manipulating the accounts of the papers. Through a special
financial inspector, the French authorities were after banning the
paper altogether – which in the end they did as a result of the
Son Ngoc Thanh (1908-1977)
• From the various confessions gathered by the
French authorities, perhaps the only individual
who deserved to be arrested was Son Ngoc
• He appears to have made a clear decision about
the use of force against the French military and
civilian authorities, unlike others among his
associates. He was planning to hire criminals and
street delinquents to murder French army officers
[Le Blanc archives].
Haèm Chieu’s confessions - 1
• The rôle of confessions before the development of forensic
• HC was a very special detainee. He considered himself
completely innocent of any wrong doing. Alas, he was somewhat
ahead of his time and such an attitude was neither understood in
his culture nor welcomed by the Vichy regime that expected every
subject to kowtow to the authorities.
• Convinced of his innocence, he asked on the occasion of each
interrogation to be given sheets of paper so that he could
candidly write down the details of the nationalist movement to
which he was contributing with a singular determination. The
various stages of these written confessions would constitute the
scenario of a stage drama or the script of a film. As later with the
Khmer Rouge interrogators of S-21, the colonial police
investigation was based almost entirely on prisoners’ confessions.
When HC realized that his candour implicated other compatriots
and that he was risking his own death, he became a tragic hero
and the innocent victim of circumstances that overwhelmed him.
• On 18th July 1942, in his second written statement (we do not
have the first), HC gave the names of a number of tirailleurs
(native infantrymen), Tom, Khut, Kong, Pom who had come to
see him in the course of May and June to complain that they had
met with many difficulties during the Thai-Indochinese war. His
contacts with the seasoned Vietminh prisoners, in Saigon prison,
then opened his eyes to the danger of his situation. The
Vietnamese told him he should never have admitted anything
nor named any names. This was when HC tried to save his and
his friends’ lives by claiming that he only played a very minor
part. Then, when confronted with his earlier written statement
under oath, he had to retract and admit that what he first said to
the police in Phnom Penh was the truth. Only in Saigon did HC
hear about the 20th July demonstration. It made his position
even more precarious as he was further seen as a dangerous
schemer who had planned to totally disrupt public order. At one
stage, HC was framed by the Intendant de Police from Hanoi and
convinced to re-write his confession in such a way as to
minimize his role and implicate others, in the hope, he was led
to believe, that he would be liberated – an enormous lie.
Haèm Chieu’s confessions - 3
• On 12th August, HC was interrogated again and required to
account for all the contradictions in his written confessions.
Torn between his natural candour and the sincerity of a
deeply religious personality, the desire to save his friends –
both military and civilian - and the natural inclination to save
his own neck, the monk was faced with a dilemma that led
him to twist the truth and renege on his strict ideals. But he
managed to refuse to renounce his convictions – as so many
detainees at S-21 had to under torture. In the end, on 7th
September the monk was faithful to his own self and admitted
that his first innocent declarations were nearest to the truth.
He assumed the full responsibility, not to the tactical and
political aspect of the plan for liberation, but the moral
responsibility for wishing to turn his compatriots into
responsible and free 20th century citizens, and no longer the
obedient “children” of the colonial power. He was essentially
a propagandist for nationalist and democratic ideals.
• Haèm Chieu, Nuon Duong, and Pach Chhœun
were sentenced to death on 29th December 1942.
After their trial they were sent back to Saigon Prison
Centrale and told to wait for the final decision of
• Their death sentences were later commuted to life
imprisonment in Koh Tralach, off the coast of the
Mekong delta, in the South China Sea (Poulo
Condore for Europeans, Con Son for Vietnamese).
II - Poulo Condore - Koh Tralach
• We have, in the colonial Archives of Aix-en-Provence, a
report on the penal colony of Poulo Condore dated 6th
September 1941, or some fifteen months before our
Cambodian prisoners arrived. It tallies with the
description of Bunchan Mol, but is in complete
contradiction with the description of the island given to
visitors today. There were no chained skeleton-like
inmates staring miserably at onlookers in the shape of
wax figures the Hanoi authorities have installed for the
edification of tourists. The site, constructed for
propaganda purposes by the Communist regime,
describes more the prisons of the Vietminh themselves
than those from the days of French Indochina. The
Vietminh prisons were to serve as a model for the Khmer
Rouge prisons later.
Koh Tralach - 2
• No prisoner was chained or starved to death nor even shut in
any room. If they misbehaved or tried to escape, Buchan Mol
mentioned some forms of mistreatment, although these were
officially banned by the authorities and the inspectors in
particular. Inmates were free to move around the island, working
for eight hours and fed three meals each day. Working hours
were from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the morning, from 1 to 5 in the
afternoon. Prisoners had time to rest after lunch or play games;
similarly, after 6 p.m., they could practice political indoctrination.
The diet was, it is true a little more stringent for ‘politicals’ than
for ‘criminals’: (who lived in separate quarters), as the former
had ‘only’ 750 grams of rice a day, and the latter 850. They had
meat four times a week, a daily ration of 200 grams of dried
fish, vegetables, fish sauce, oil, etc. … Second helpings were
freely available. Or so the report goes ….. if we are to believe it.
Koh Tralach - 3
• The Cambodian detainees were kept busy constructing a road around
the island; there was an electric power station, a brickyard, a sawmill,
ironworks, smithy, joiner’s workshop, lime kiln, all well fitted out,
basketwork, salt marshes, a rice mill, fishery, pigsty, 184 cattle, fruit
trees, coconut trees, and a pepper plantation. The garden of the
director was said to be beautiful.
• The sanitary situation seemed to be excellent at that time as, for the
year 1940-41 the percentage of sick people was 19%, and of deaths,
0.45%, while it was about 0.50 % in the average population. But the
inspector warned it would soon deteriorate as the prison population
jumped from 2,290 in March 1940 to 4,204 in September 1941. That
surge in numbers was said to be caused by the transfer of some 500
inmates from Saigon’s Central Prison. Another reason mentioned in
the report was the numerous political prisoners waiting to be courtmartialled in Saigon — mainly from Vietnam of course. With the
shortage of new buildings, there was a danger of overpopulation and
the inspector feared that the health of workers would suffer in the
future. There was a high risk of an epidemic that might spread
Koh Tralach - 4
• The ward number 2 was reserved for ‘politicals’. In September
1941, they were already some 1,100. There may have been twice
as many by the time Hem Chieu and his companions arrived.
There was a dire shortage of space and guards and prisoners
worked freely (“travaillent en liberté”). They complained about the
lack of space and were viewed as the most impudent and
difficult prisoners. Noël de Gentil, counsel for the prosecution at
the Saigon Court of Appeal, visited penal establishment 2 on
27th March 1941. He described a vast courtyard in the centre
planted with tall trees: on the left, there was a building for the
Communists, on the right for the Nationalists. It had a kitchen, a
henhouse, a dovecote and wells. Noël de Gentil wrote that the
Communists he saw first complained of the attitude of the
Nationalists towards them, and later the Nationalists complained
of the Communists. [Indo/GGI/ // 65.927]
Koh Tralach - 5
According to Bunchan Mol, the prisoners were forced to do either light
work like being a servant of the French or patrolling the island to check
if prisoners were trying to escape. Hard labour included collecting
wood, seaweed, working in the rice mill, cutting trees, fishing, working
in the salt farm, or the fruit and vegetable farm.
“Among the prisoners, some rested after work, some chatted or joked with one
another, some played chess or raek [Khmer chess]. However, there was an unusual
set of prisoners, split into groups of 5 or 6 people, who attempted to learn English,
French or Russian, for example. They used white lime as chalk to write on the
cement floor where we slept”.
He noticed that the majority were Vietnamese, belonging to the politica
group of the Vietminh. “They were always teaching one another about politics :
to do whatever was possible to keep themselves aware and struggling psychologically.
They also made efforts to teach the common law prisoners about their ideology, their
understanding, and encouraged them along the right path towards progress.”
Koh Tralach - 6
• Criminals apparently did not disturb the ‘politicals’. “This
group always taught politics to members of their own group. Their
concern was the independence of their country. They also re-educated
criminal prisoners so that these criminals could become good citizens.
• Among those prisoners were future Secretaries-General
of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Le Duan and
Nguyen Van Linh who were on Poulo Condore from
1940 to 1945. For the Vietminh, this kind of
imprisonment was regarded as their ‘university of
politics’. General Giap did not qualify as Party Secretary
because his degree in law resulted from a conventional
education. That was the kind of ‘university’ Haèm Chieu
attended in the last months of his life.
III - The death of Haèm Chieu
• I found no trace of the number of prisoners on Poulo
Condore by the time HC died. We have a figure of 2,290 in
March 1940 and 4,204 in September 1941. Bunchan Mol
speaks of 10,000. If the figure is multiplied by two each year
of the Vichy repression - political in particular - that sort of
figure might have been reached. What is certain is that
“congestion coincided with a dramatic deterioration of sanitary
• In December 1943, HC died at the age of 46 of dysentery or
cholera. He died in the lap of Nuon Duong who was also sick.
He encouraged his companions, especially Bunchan Mol and
Nuong Duong, “to continue the revolutionary movement”. He said
to Nuon Duong before he died: “I’m not scared of death; but still
I am sorry not to see Kampuchea independent.” He also added that
“single individuals cannot achieve the goal of constructing the nation, but
it was possible if all the people were united. I cannot save the country
alone, as our country belongs to every Khmer”.
V - 1945- 1949 : the Return of the French
• While 4th December 1945 Royal Ordinance had abolished
the declaration of independence earlier in the year.
• On the other hand, on the advice of the French
authorities, the King accepted to endow the kingdom with
a modern constitution, in order to put an end to absolute
monarchy. For that purpose, a mixed Khmero-French
commission was appointed to make sure it would
guarantee fundamental human rights, institute Assemblies
elected by universal suffrage, create a Government
responsible in front of the National Assembly and the
King, guaranteeing the separation of the legislative,
executive and political powers. The next step was to elect
a constituent assembly that would be elected by universal
1 – Creation of the first legal parties
- The Democratic Party (Procheathippatay) was founded on 21st April
1946 by Chhean Vam (1916-2000), then principal of Lycée Sisowath,
along with Ieu Koeus (1905-1950) and Sim Var (1906-1989),
previously associated with Nagaravatta. Prince Sisowath Youtévong
(1913-1947), who returned a few months later from France, became
its leader. He had spent 15 years in France where he received a
scholarship to Lycée St. Louis in Paris. He passed a B.A. at the
Science Faculty of Montpellier in 1938 and earned a Doctorate in
physical sciences in 1941. Later he had a diploma in investigative
astronomy. He married a French woman Dominique Lavergne and
had been a member of the French Socialist Party. Chhean Vam had a
B.A. in History and Geography was the Secretary General.
• - Prince Norodom Norindeth (1906-1975), created the Liberal Party
(Sereipheap) on 16th June 1946. He was the grandson of both
Norodom and Sisowath and had studied in France.
• - Prince Norodom Montana (1902-1975), a grandson of Prince
Duong Chakr, who had attended the Royal School of Administration
in Phnom Penh, founded the Progressive Democratic Party on 23rd
June 1946. He had 13 children with various wives.
Chhean Vam (1916-2000)
• He passed baccalaureate in 1938 after studying at Sisowath and
took a BA in History-Geography in Paris in 1941. He taught at
Lycée Sisowath & became principal in 1946. He married
• When the Democratic Party was founded he became first
secretary-general for a few months before Prince Sisowath
Yuthévong returned from France.
• He became Minister of education in Youtévong’s first Cabinet
from Dec. 1946 to July 1947. He remained Minister of
Education after Youtévong’s death and until 1948 when he
became PM from Feb. to Aug. 1948, but soon after retired from
• He was head of SONEXIM, State-owned import-export agency
during the Sangkum. In 1978, while in Svay Rieng, he managed
to escape to Vietnam & to France. 12/10/1979, Vice-President
of the Khmer People’s national Liberation Front of Son Sann.
Died in Paris in 2000.
2 – First universal suffrage elections
• In the 1st months of 1946, the mixed Khmero-French
commission set up to write a draft constitution had completed
its work while the King was in France. The elections to the
Constitutional Assembly, with universal male suffrage, took
place 1st September 1946 .
• In the meantime, the three parties busied themselves setting up
provincial offices and recruiting members. The Democratic
Party was essentially made up of the readership of Nagaravatta,
that is most of the national and provincial young civil servants.
The presence at the head of the party of returnees from France,
with their University degrees of Chhean Vam and Youtévong
constituted a powerful magnet.
• Norodom Norindeth’s party benefited both from the wealth of
his family and the very strong support of French administrators,
and in particular General d’Alessandri Commissaire de la
République. The Democratic Party accused him of being in
favour of French status quo and the 7th January1946 Modus vivendi
that had already been rejected by Cambodian public opinion.
The elections of 1st September 1946
• The turnout of this first universal male suffrage
elections was 60%. The Democrats won a sweeping
victory, gaining 50 seats out of 69 (67); the Liberals
got 16 (14,12) seats and independents 3 (5).
• The first meeting of the Assembly took place on
4th September and its debates were to last for eight
months, with many diplomatic shuttles between the
Assembly and the Royal Palace.
• In theory, the King was not obliged to change
anything in the government presided over by
Monireth, as the Assembly was just supposed to
vote a new constitution.
The first democratically elected government - 1
• The French Commisaire de la République advised the King to
ask Princes Yuthévong and Norindeth to enter the
Government. This meant that there would be 4 Princes in
the Government out of 6 members. Faced with that
situation, Prince Monireth, with his usual lack of
diplomacy, abruptly gave his resignation and refused to
form a new government.
• Sihanouk then decided to ask Yuthévong to form the
new government. Norindeth considered himself as a
Prince of higher rank then Youtévong and therefore
refused to serve in his government. Youtévong could then
form a homogeneous Democratic government.
• By the end of April 1947, the Constituent Assembly had
almost unanimously voted the new constitution.
The first democratically elected government -2
• That constitution was to a large extent a copy of the
French 1946 constitution, with this difference that the
head of State was not a president of the Republic elected
for seven years, but a King who was there ad vitam.
• The preamble of the constitution defined Cambodia as “a
Kingdom associated to the French Union”. Civil liberties
were provided for all; and political rights were recognized
for all, except Buddhist monks, women and soldiers on
the active list.
• It provided for a bicameral legislature, namely the
National; Assembly and the Council of the Kingdom”.
There was also a Council of the Crown.
The tribulations of democracy - 1
• It might appear that this was a major step for Cambodia to enter
the new modern age that would soon bring prosperity and
happiness to the Cambodian people. Not only Cambodia was
clearly becoming more and more autonomous, gradually running
its own affairs, but Cambodians themselves were offered the
opportunity to free themselves from the yoke of an absolutist
political regime, a mirror image of a strictly hierarchical society,
and learn to live as free and responsible citizen.
• Still, as the history of the following 60-odd years was to show,
this had not been the case for most of the time and for most
Cambodians. By the early 21st century, too many Cambodians, in
the government or in the country, it seems have not yet entered
modernity, as superstitions are widespread, the lack of
understanding of the rule of law and a rigidly hierarchical
conception of the power structure have continued to prevail.
The tribulations of democracy - 2
• Another cause for the subsequent failure of good
governance was inherent to the new constitution itself. In
the French Constitution of its Fourth Republic, “power was
decided between the executive and the legislature, but the legislature
retained the right to bring down the executive should there be
disagreements on policy. This arrangement resulted in protracted
instability in France, an instability that was to be matched in
• More importantly, and unlike in Great Britain or the
United States, in those year of the Cold War, there was
little consensus among the French public about how
France should be governed and what was the rôle of the
State. France was not consensual, but sharply divided
between the supporters of the so-called “capitalist” model
and supporters of the “socialist” or “communist” model.
The tribulations of democracy - 3
• Post WWII France, being divided approximately half and half, it
was most difficult to find a workable majority between these
sharply antagonistic groups.
• Something similar was going to happen in Cambodia, not
between the parties, but inside the Democratic Party itself, with
communist revolutionaries unable to promote their ideas in the
open and attempting to subvert the Democratic Party from
• On top of that, the Cambodians followed the French model in
another way: neither the Prime Minister, nor any of his Ministers
needed to be members of the legislature. So these people, not
belonging to the institution that censured them, could much
more easily be voted out of office by a vote of no confidence of
the Assembly. It meant that the Government, the King and the
Assembly had to agree on every piece of policy, which was a
difficult thing to achieve.
The tribulations of democracy - 4
• Finally, a more fundamental cause for the predicament of C.
democracy was that, through a universal suffrage extended to
mostly illiterate electors, professional administrators could be
replaced by untrained and corrupt demagogues who were
suddenly catapulted into positions for which they had little
competence and expertise. Demagogy, according to Nhiek
Tioulong, could reign supreme to the detriment of the experts.
This is what he explains in a sub-chapter, “Évolution ou révolution
dans la vie publique khmère” of his Chroniques khmères.
• Since the creation by the Protectorate of professional cadres to
staff the administration, diplomas and a lot of hard work were
necessary to reach the top echelons of the State. With the
introduction of political parties and universal suffrage, shortcuts
could be taken to pretend to high political posts. Outbidding
your political opponents during electoral campaigns, making the
most demagogic promises, trading of favours, shady deals,
corruption of civil servants and electors, etc. … could suddenly
promote you into the forefront
The tribulations of democracy - 5
• The result was that middle level civil servants, mekhum
from small communes, clerks, tradesmen, compradores (=
native representatives or intermediaries of French or
foreign businessmen), suddenly became heads of great
national departments, or members of ministerial cabinet
offices as they were promoted deputies by universal
• As parliamentarians, they were entitled to the same
salaries as those top civil servants could earn after 25
years of faithful service. Thus, according to Tioulong still,
elective parliamentary democracy “introduced mediocrity
The early death of Yutévong - 1
• The tragic thing – tragic for the PM and tragic for
Cambodia – Youtévong only survived his
premiership for a couple of months as he died of
his lingering tuberculosis, plus malaria he caught at
Kep, and overwork in July 1947. The King
appointed a caretaker government before the
general elections to the first legislature of the
National Assembly and the Council of the
Kingdom that were to take place on 31st December.
Prince Watchayavong, grandson of Sisowath, exalumnus of the Ecole libre des Sciences Politiques de Paris
(at least 25 children).
• After the death of Yutevong, dissentions developed
within the Democratic Party. A few, among whom
Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak, decided to form a
new party; “La Rénovation nationale”.
The early death of Yutévong - 2
• At the elections of December 1947, out of the
782,000 electors, 464,000 voted, that is 59%, or about
the same percentage as the previous elections.
• The Democratic Party obtained 293,000 votes, or 65%
and 55 seats [Chandler, Tragedy, gives 73% of the votes
and 54 seats, 38], the Liberals, 149,000, or 32% and 20
seats. The “Rénovation nationale”, 3%, “Démocrates
progressistes”, 1%, the “Union Nationale”, 0,4% and all
of them no seats. With a majority of more than 2/3
of the seats, it looked as if the Democratic Party
would be in a position to rule during the next four
years of the legislature with no difficulty. Yet, that was
not to be the case.
The early death of Yutévong - 2
• Chhean Vam, again General Secretary to the Democratic Party, was
naturally requested by the King to form a government, although he
was not a parliamentarian. It was supported by 46 votes to 19.
• Seven months later, he requested to have full powers to investigate
the affairs of the illicit sale of rationed cotton thread in which a vicepresident of the Assembly, Sam Nhean, father of Sam Sary, was said
to be implicated. Vam was defeated by 21 votes in favour and 25
against. He gave his resignation on 1st August 1948.
• Penn Nouth who left the Royal Palace where he was the King’s
advisor, was invested by 41 votes to 21. That Cabinet would last also
for 7 months, as, in February 1949, because of a problem of
• A vote of no confidence, proposed by the lawyer Yem Sambaur, was
passed with a large majority. The latter, in his turn was requested to
form a government and he was invested by 41 votes to 24. On 18th
September 1949, because of a new quarrel among the Democrats, the
Yem Sambaur government was disavowed by a clear majority of 53
votes to 7. That meant it was overthrown.
The sovereign re-enters the political stage
• In front of that instability, the King decided to re-appoint Yem
Sambaur on 29th September 1949. Although that was contrary to
the Constitution, he would govern for two years without an
assembly that was dissolved. According to the constitution,
national elections should have taken place within two months. But
it was decided that, because of the insecurity in the countryside,
elections had to be postponed. The justification was also based on
article 21 of the Constitution that said: “All powers emanate from
• A few weeks later, Ieu Koeuss, the President of the National
Assembly, was assassinated by a grenade attack on the night of 14th
January 1950 against the seat of the Central Committee of the
Democratic Party where Kœuss was correcting proofs. A number
of people were blamed, including Prince Norindeth, the president
of the Liberal Party, who fled to France. Some 50,000 people
formed a procession at his funeral, “the largest political procession in
Cambodian history to date and the most spontaneous” (Chandler).
Sihanouk was present at the funeral, but did not mention the event