Establishing Democratic Kampuchea

Cambodia Table of Contents

The communists had exercised real power behind the facade, since its establishment in 1970, of the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea, (Governement Royal d'Union Nationale du Kampuchéa--GRUNK). It remained formally in control of the country until the proclamation of the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea on January 5, 1976. Three months later, on April 2, Sihanouk resigned as head of state. Sihanouk remained under comfortable, but insecure, house arrest in Phnom Penh, until he departed for China on the last flight before Vietnamese forces captured the city on January 7, 1979.

Khieu Samphan described the 1976 Constitution as "not the result of any research on foreign documents, nor...the fruit of any research by scholars. In fact the people--workers, peasants, and Revolutionary Army--wrote the Constitution with their own hands." It was a brief document of sixteen chapters and twenty-one articles that defined the character of the state; the goals of economic, social and cultural policies; and the basic tenets of foreign policy. The "rights and duties of the individual" were briefly defined in Article 12. They included none of what are commonly regarded as guarantees of political human rights except the statement that "men and women are equal in every respect." The document declared, however, that "all workers" and "all peasants" were "masters" of their factories and fields. An assertion that "there is absolutely no unemployment in Democratic Kampuchea" rings true in light of the regime's massive use of forced labor.

The Constitution defined Democratic Kampuchea's foreign policy principles in Article 21, the document's longest, in terms of "independence, peace, neutrality, and nonalignment." It pledged the country's support to anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World. In light of the regime's aggressive attacks against Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao territory during 1977 and 1978, the promise to "maintain close and friendly relations with all countries sharing a common border" bore little resemblance to reality.

Governmental institutions were outlined very briefly in the Constitution. The legislature, the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly (KPRA), contained 250 members "representing workers, peasants, and other working people and the Kampuchean Revolutionary army." One hundred and fifty KPRA seats were allocated for peasant representatives; fifty, for the armed forces; and fifty, for worker and other representatives. The legislature was to be popularly elected for a five-year term. Its first and only election was held on March 20, 1976. "New people" apparently were not allowed to participate.

The executive branch of government also was chosen by the KPRA. It consisted of a state presidium "responsible for representing the state of Democratic Kampuchea inside and outside the country." It served for a five-year term, and its president was head of state. Khieu Samphan was the first and only person to serve in this office, which he assumed after Sihanouk's resignation. The judicial system was composed of "people's courts," the judges for which were appointed by the KPRA, as was the executive branch.

The Constitution did not mention regional or local government institutions. After assuming power, the Khmer Rouge abolished the old provinces (khet) and replaced them with seven zones; the Northern Zone, Northeastern Zone, Northwestern Zone, Central Zone, Eastern Zone, Western Zone, and Southwestern Zone. There were also two other regional-level units: the Kracheh Special Region Number 505 and, until 1977, the Siemreab Special Region Number 106. The zones were divided into damban (regions) that were given numbers. Number One, appropriately, encompassed the Samlot region of the Northwestern Zone (including Batdambang Province), where the insurrection against Sihanouk had erupted in early 1967. With this exception, the damban appear to have been numbered arbitrarily.

The damban were divided into srok (districts), khum (subdistricts), and phum (villages), the latter usually containing several hundred people. This pattern was roughly similar to that which existed under Sihanouk and the Khmer Republic, but inhabitants of the villages were organized into krom (groups) composed of ten to fifteen families. On each level, administration was directed by a three-person committee (kanak, or kena). KCP members occupied committee posts at the higher levels. Subdistrict and village committees were often staffed by local poor peasants, and, very rarely, by "new people." Cooperatives (sahakor), similar in jurisdictional area to the khum, assumed local government responsibilities in some areas.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress