Global Study sheds light on Cambodia’s crooked development

Cambodia in the BTI 2020 (CC BY 4.0)

Today, Germany-based Bertelsmann Stiftung is publishing its biannual Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI). In the 2020 volume, the BTI analyzes and evaluates the quality of democracy, market economy and governance in 137 developing and transition countries. It documents Cambodia’s uneven transition of economic improvements and poor autocratic governance.

The BTI 2020 fully acknowledges Cambodia’s achievements of its economic transformation. While the country ranked on position 96 among 129 states two years ago, it climbed to number 89 among 137 states in 2020. Compared to 2018 edition, Cambodia performs slightly better regarding both monetary and fiscal stability. In addition, the output strength of the Cambodian economy continues to grow. However, at the same time the study also questions the overall sustainability of Cambodia’s progress.

No modern economy with traditional patronage politics

Noteworthy, despite of the dissolution of the opposition party by court rule in November 2017, the gradation of Cambodia’s political transformation appears moderately. “The dissolution was only the final step of a willful destruction of political competition since 2015. Although the unleashing of the opposition is a turning point, it has not significantly changed the political system as the autocratic elements have already prevailed before”, Dr. Markus Karbaum says, Cambodia country expert and author of the Cambodian chapter. Similarly, Cambodia also shows setbacks in the governance sub-index. Regarding its anti-corruption policy and the dominance of anti-democratic actors, the country falls on the lowest score possible.

“For more than two decades, we can observe an uneven development in the country. While the fruits of the economic development cannot be seriously ignored, the evolvement of institutional capacities stagnates on a lowest level. It is only a question of time when the poor governance performance is going to impair the economic development essentially. I strongly doubt that the Cambodian government can manage a modern economy with traditional patronage politics and all its negative concomitants as described in the Bertelsmann Transformation Index”, Dr. Karbaum adds.

In the current pandemic crisis, again autocratic government means poor governance

Whether the COVID-19 crisis could become a fundamental ‘game changer’ of Cambodian politics, Dr. Karbaum remains skeptical. “Only if the crisis lasts for several months, reform pressure could increase. Of course this is not a unique Cambodian problem as every government in the world has to respond to this once-in-a-lifetime challenge. But as the BTI 2020 proofs that autocratic governance all over the world is usually poor at the same time, I am not convinced that the new Law on Management of the Nation in State of Emergency is appropriate to fix the crisis in Cambodia.”

With contributions of more than 280 experts, the BTI 2020 covers the period from February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2019. For more information on the BTI, please see visit

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