Friday, October 01, 2010

From Dictatorship to Democracy - Chapter One: Facing Dictatorship Reallistically

KI Media is starting a series on From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp whereby a chapter from this book in both English and Khmer is published every 2-day interval, with prior submissions listed in the menu bar for easy recall. The emphasis is that of KI Media. For its original complete text go to:
This book has been translated into KHMER and its full version is available at:

Be inspired! Be coordinated! And take action!

KI Media
. . . . .
Click here to read the Khmer version (PDF)

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Facing Dictatorship Realistically

In recent years various dictatorships — of both internal and external origin — have collapsed or stumbled when confronted by defiant, mobilized people. Often seen as firmly entrenched and impregnable, some of these dictatorships proved unable to withstand the concerted political, economic, and social defiance of the people.

Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance(1) of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).

In addition, mass political defiance1 has occurred in China, Burma, and Tibet in recent years. Although those struggles have not brought an end to the ruling dictatorships or occupations, they have exposed the brutal nature of those repressive regimes to the world community and have provided the populations with valuable experience with this form of struggle.

The collapse of dictatorships in the above-named countries certainly has not erased all other problems in those societies: poverty, crime, bureaucratic inefficiency, and environmental destruction are often the legacy of brutal regimes. However, the downfall of these dictatorships has minimally lifted much of the suffering of the victims of oppression, and has opened the way for the rebuilding of these societies with greater political democracy, personal liberties, and social justice.

A continuing problem

There has indeed been a trend towards greater democratization and freedom in the world in the past decades. According to Freedom House, which compiles a yearly international survey of the status of political rights and civil liberties, the number of countries around the world classified as “Free” has grown significantly in recent years:(2)

1983 Free:54; Partly Free:47; Not Free:64
1993 Free:75; Partly Free:73; Not Free:38
2003 Free:89; Partly Free:55; Not Free:48
2009 Free: 89; Partly Free:62; Not Free:42

However, this positive trend is tempered by the large numbers of people still living under conditions of tyranny. As of 2008, 34% of the world’s 6.68 billion population lived in countries designated as “Not Free,”(3) that is, areas with extremely restricted political rights and civil liberties. The 42 countries in the “Not Free” category are ruled by a range of military dictatorships (as in Burma), traditional repressive monarchies (as in Saudi Arabia and Bhutan), dominant political parties (as in China and North Korea), foreign occupiers (as in Tibet and Western Sahara), or are in a state of transition.

Many countries today are in a state of rapid economic, political, and social change. Although the number of “Free” countries has increased in recent years, there is a great risk that many nations, in the face of such rapid fundamental changes, will move in the opposite direction and experience new forms of dictatorship. Military cliques, ambitious individuals, elected officials, and doctrinal political parties will repeatedly seek to impose their will. Coups d’état are and will remain a common occurrence. Basic human and political rights will continue to be denied to vast numbers of peoples.

Unfortunately, the past is still with us [CAMBODIA]. The problem of dictatorships is deep. People in many countries have experienced decades or even centuries of oppression, whether of domestic or foreign origin. Frequently, unquestioning submission to authority figures and rulers has been long inculcated. In extreme cases, the social, political, economic, and even religious institutions of the society — outside of state control — have been deliberately weakened, subordinated, or even replaced by new regimented institutions used by the state or ruling party to control the society. The population has often been atomized (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) unable to work together to achieve freedom, to confide in each other, or even to do much of anything at their own initiative.

The result is predictable: the population becomes weak, lacks self-confidence, and is incapable of resistance. People are often too frightened to share their hatred of the dictatorship and their hunger for freedom even with family and friends. People are often too terrified to think seriously of public resistance. In any case, what would be the use? Instead, they face suffering without purpose and a future without hope.

Current conditions in today’s dictatorships may be much worse than earlier. In the past, some people may have attempted resistance. Short-lived mass protests and demonstrations may have occurred. Perhaps spirits soared temporarily. At other times, individuals and small groups may have conducted brave but impotent gestures, asserting some principle or simply their defiance. However noble the motives, such past acts of resistance have often been insufficient to overcome the people’s fear and habit of obedience, a necessary prerequisite to destroy the dictatorship. Sadly, those acts may have brought instead only increased suffering and death, not victories or even hope.

Freedom through violence?

What is to be done in such circumstances? The obvious possibilities seem useless. Constitutional and legal barriers, judicial decisions, and public opinion are normally ignored by dictators. Understandably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.

Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority [author's emphasis]. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly. However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition, transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the democrats are (almost always) no match.

When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealistic, some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla warfare rarely, if ever, benefits the oppressed population or ushers in a democracy. Guerrilla warfare is no obvious solution, particularly given the very strong tendency toward immense casualties among one’s own people. The technique is no guarantor against failure, despite supporting theory and strategic analyses, and sometimes international backing. Guerrilla struggles often last a very long time. Civilian populations are often displaced by the ruling government, with immense human suffering and social dislocation.

Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its countermeasures. If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institutions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and maintaining a democratic society. Persons hostile to dictatorships should look for another option.

Coups, elections, foreign saviors?

A military coup d’état against a dictatorship might appear to be relatively one of the easiest and quickest ways to remove a particularly repugnant regime. However, there are very serious problems with that technique. Most importantly, it leaves in place the existing maldistribution of power between the population and the elite in control of the government and its military forces. The removal of particular persons and cliques from the governing positions most likely will merely make it possible for another group to take their place. Theoretically, this group might be milder in its behavior and be open in limited ways to democratic reforms. However, the opposite is as likely to be the case.

After consolidating its position, the new clique may turn out to be more ruthless and more ambitious than the old one [1997 coup by Hun Sen]. Consequently, the new clique — in which hopes may have been placed — will be able to do whatever it wants without concern for democracy or human rights. That is not an acceptable answer to the problem of dictatorship.

Elections are not available under dictatorships as an instrument of significant political change. Some dictatorial regimes, such as those of the former Soviet-dominated Eastern bloc, went through the motions in order to appear democratic. Those elections, however, were merely rigidly controlled plebiscites to get public endorsement of candidates already hand-picked by the dictators. Dictators under pressure may at times agree to new elections, but then rig them to place civilian puppets in government offices. If opposition candidates have been allowed to run and were actually elected, as occurred in Burma in 1990 and Nigeria in 1993, results may simply be ignored and the “victors” subjected to intimidation, arrest, or even execution. Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.

Many people now suffering under a brutal dictatorship, or who have gone into exile to escape its immediate grasp, do not believe that the oppressed can liberate themselves. They expect that their people can only be saved by the actions of others. These people place their confidence in external forces. They believe that only international help can be strong enough to bring down the dictators.

The view that the oppressed are unable to act effectively is sometimes accurate for a certain time period. As noted, often oppressed people are unwilling and temporarily unable to struggle because they have no confidence in their ability to face the ruthless dictatorship, and no known way to save themselves. It is therefore understandable that many people place their hope for liberation in others. This outside force may be “public opinion,” the United Nations, a particular country, or international economic and political sanctions.

Such a scenario may sound comforting, but there are grave problems with this reliance on an outside savior. Such confidence may be totally misplaced. Usually no foreign saviors are coming, and if a foreign state does intervene, it probably should not be trusted. A few harsh realities concerning reliance on foreign intervention need to be emphasized here:

• Frequently foreign states will tolerate, or even positively assist, a dictatorship in order to advance their own economic or political interests.

• Foreign states also may be willing to sell out an oppressed people instead of keeping pledges to assist their liberation at the cost of another objective.

• Some foreign states will act against a dictatorship only to gain their own economic, political, or military control over the country.

• The foreign states may become actively involved for positive purposes only if and when the internal resistance movement has already begun shaking the dictatorship, having thereby focused international attention on the brutal nature of the regime.

Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal power distribution in the home country. The population and society are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands. Although dictatorships may benefit from or be somewhat weakened by international actions, their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors.

International pressures can be very useful, however, when they are supporting a powerful internal resistance movement. Then, for example, international economic boycotts, embargoes, the breaking of diplomatic relations, expulsion from international organizations, condemnation by United Nations bodies, and the like can assist greatly. However, in the absence of a strong internal resistance movement such actions by others are unlikely to happen.

Facing the hard truth

The conclusion is a hard one. When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:

• One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;

• One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;

• One must create a powerful internal resistance force; and

• One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully.

A liberation struggle is a time for self-reliance and internal strengthening of the struggle group. As Charles Stewart Parnell called out during the Irish rent strike campaign in 1879 and 1880:

It is no use relying on the Government... You must only rely upon your own determination... [H]elp yourselves by standing together... strengthen those amongst yourselves who are weak..., band yourselves together, organize yourselves... and you must win...

When you have made this question ripe for settlement, then and not till then will it be settled. (4)

Against a strong self-reliant force, given wise strategy, disciplinedand courageous action, and genuine strength, the dictatorship will eventually crumble. Minimally, however, the above four requirements must be fulfilled.

As the above discussion indicates, liberation from dictatorships ultimately depends on the people’s ability to liberate themselves. The cases of successful political defiance — or nonviolent struggle for political ends — cited above indicate that the means do exist for populations to free themselves, but that option has remained undeveloped. We will examine this option in detail in the following chapters. However, we should first look at the issue of negotiations as a means of dismantling dictatorships.

1 The term used in this context was introduced by Robert Helvey. “Political defiance” is nonviolent struggle (protest, noncooperation, and intervention) applied defiantly and actively for political purposes. The term originated in response to the confusion and distortion created by equating nonviolent struggle with pacifism and moral or religious “nonviolence.” “Defiance” denotes a deliberate challenge to authority by disobedience, allowing no room for submission. “Political defiance” describes the environment in which the action is employed (political) as well as the objective (political power). The term is used principally to describe action by populations to regain from dictatorships control over governmental institutions by relentlessly attacking their sources of power and deliberately using strategic planning and operations to do so. In this paper, political defiance, nonviolent resistance, and nonviolent struggle will be used interchangeably, although the latter two terms generally refer to struggles with a broader range of objectives (social, economic, psychological, etc.).

2 Freedom House, Freedom in the World,

3 Ibid.

4 Patrick Sarsfield O’Hegarty, A History of Ireland Under the Union, 1880-1922 (London: Methuen, 1952), pp. 490-491


Anonymous said...

Thanks ki media! what great work you do for democracy education for Cambodia and cambodians!

Anonymous said...

You can't fight dictatorship with international laws or pressure from another democratic country. I came name you many governments that the united states would like to rid of but can't because they have rules to follow. (Iran, N. Korea; etc) every free country will sit and condemn other countries. That's all! Cambodia only option and this goes to all dictatorship, is war. Civil war! Cambodia need to start arm resistance. But the catch is most resistance tend to hang onto power and not relinquish. So it's a catch 22. Cambodia will never be free from Vietnam! If I should chose I rather have a government backed by Thailand since they are more obligated to international, where as Vietnam could really give a crap!

Just look at Thailand when ah Hun sen threaten to complain to the UN. Thai government immediately tone done their voice. And now loom at Vietnam despite international pressure on Khmer krom. They still crack down on them. But the KKF organization is much smarter than SRP.

Anonymous said...

Come on, wake up, get your fact straight.

1997 coup was started by Rannarith. He and his Khmer Rouge ally send troop to fight with the CPP troop in Phnom Penh. But the CPP kicked their ass and wipe them out.

The CPP won the election after election not because they are dictator, but because they have better party structure, more organize, more discipline, has more resources. They ran better campaign than the opposition, so they got more votes and thus they rule the country.

HS become master of using the weapon of democracy. He is more genuine, he appeal to more common people than SR who act like an elite politician. SR only appeal to Khmer over sea and a few people in Phnom Penh.

So if you want to win the election, don't just campaign a few month before the election. Learn from the CPP, they send out all their leaders to everywhere to campaign every day. That's how they secure their grass root support so firmly.

Anonymous said...

true, i told them to learn from everyone in the world. there's no such thing as bad question that is relevant to the topic being discussed! i called for some degree of paradigm shift in my country! reform is not enough, people must learn new way and reformed themselves as well as the very institution they governed, etc! the world should teach cambodia to see what is good life in the world and what is bad life i.e. the western society vs communism, etc! most people in cambodia now experienced communism that cause many lives; it is time for cambodia to experience captitalism, freedom, democracy, etc because principles will take cambodia to good life for all, not just the few privileged! so education, exposure to the developed world, exposure to good life, good rule of law, etc will awaken khmer people and cambodia for sure to walk in the right direction once and for all. and this journey, cambodia will need american and other civilized nations guidance, assistance, tolerance, indulgence, prayeur, entrepreneurship, technological know-how, and on and on... please be the light that guides cambodia. god bless.

Anonymous said...

All Khmers,

We are looking for a leader to carry this TASK to unite, organise, and liberate the oppressed KHmer people from Hanoi's puppet Hun Sen.

We should have someone amaongst us in oversea countries now.

វៀតណាមូនីយកម្ម said...

តាមលក្ខណះប្រទេសមួយចំនួន ​គឺវាតម្រូវអោយមាន ថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំជារបៀប ផ្ដាច់ការណ៍ទៅវិញ ​។ ដូចជាប្រទេសចិនជាដើម
កុំដោយសារបាន បក្សកម្មុយនិស្ដចិន ដឹកនាំប្រទេស បានយ៉ាងរឹងមាំ សំម្លេះ ចិននត្រូវបែកបាក់ យ៉ាងអណាធិបតេយ្យអស់
ទៅហើយ ។​ រហូតមកដល់សព្វថ្ងៃនេះ គេបានឃើញហើយនូវ​ លទ្ធផលជាវិជ្ជមាន ដែលរដ្ឋាភិបាលចិន បានកំទេចពូកនិសិត្សនៅសួនឆៀនណាំមិញ ដែលពួកគេកាលណោះ បាននាំគ្នាធ្វើការតវ៉ាប្រឆាំង ចង់បានសិទ្ធសេរីភាព ពោល ជាការទាមទារ ក្នុងបែបប័ទ្ធចង់កែប្រែ ប្រទេសចិនអោយក្លាយទៅជាប្រទេសមួយ ដែលប្រកាន់យកនូវលិទ្ធប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ ដូចបស្ចឹមលោក ។​ ​២២ឆ្នាំកន្លងមក រហូតដល់សព្វថ្ងៃនេះ ចិននៅតែប្រទេសប្រកាន់របបផ្ដាច់ការណ៍ដដែល ពលរដ្ឋចិនមិនស៊ូវមានសិទ្ធសេរីភាពដូចពួកនៅបស្ចឹមប្រទេសឡើយ ។
តែប្រទេសចិន បានក្លាយជាមហាយក្សផ្នែកសេដ្ឋកិច្ចទីពីរ ក្នុងពិភពលោក ។ បើតាម ​ទិន្ន័យថ្មីៗនេះ ​ពលរដ្ឋចិនជាងបីរយលាននាក់ មានជីវភាពកម្រឹតធូរធារ។ ​​​ ដូច្នេះបើតាមចំនួន នេះ គឺមានចំនួនច្រើន ជាងពលរដ្ឋអាមេរិកាំងទៅទៀត ។​ បើគេពិនិត្យអោយមែនទេនទៅ ​​នៅប្រទេសចិន សិទ្ធសេរីភាពក្នុងការបញ្ចេញមតិ ឬការទាមទារដូចជាការធ្វើបាតុកម្មអហិង្សាណាមួយ ​ គឺរដ្ឋអំណាចចិន គេអនុញ្ញាតតែទៅលើសាមីខ្លួនដែលជាអ្នកពាក់ព័ន្ធ
ប៉ុណ្ណោះ តែមិនអនុញ្ញាត​ អោយអ្នកដទៃ មកធ្វើជំនួសបានឡើយ​ ​ ៕
សរុមមក ​សង្គមនិមួយ ៗ មានលក្ខណះខុសពីគ្នា លទ្ធិដឹកនាំយ៉ាងណានោះ​​ វាគ្មានសំខាន់ឡើយ ​សំខាន់គឺ​ ពលរដ្ឋគេ
មានការងារធ្វើ មានជីវភាពគ្រប់គ្រាន់ ។ លោកហ៊ុនសែនគាត់ធ្លាប់មានប្រសាសន៍ថា អ្នកនយោបាយនៅស្រុកខ្មែរ
ជាច្រើន ធ្វើនយោបាយយូរៗទៅ រកតែអង្កច្រកឆ្នាំងក៏មិនបានផង​!!

Anonymous said...

i told them, it's about good strategy that makes all the real difference. yes, srp are selective in who they pick to join them, of course their background are former khmer elitist who left cambodia as refugees. they are so outdated in traditonal thinking, unless them, cpp and some others have better strategy and are more in touch with the majority of khmer people in cambodia. thus, they will naturally be more effective in their competive nature to win an election as where srp is so backward and so busy in their activist distraction, they are like blind leading the blinds despite their superficial nature of lucky for having settled abroad, etc... and they don't learn from everybody because their bad attitude is making them detrimental to think clearly for the sake of cambodia. shame on them all for not able to do self-examination. maybe they think of themselves as perfection creation or something. now, that is not good for cambodia. more power to the cpp and all other khmer would are educated enough ot analyze, think for themselves, etc, etc... god bless cambodia always.

Anonymous said...

12.39 PM,

You forget that the level pating is not level for all to play. Look who control everyhging from military, court, civil administration, police, down to the villages ?

Rule by fear and money nis the CPP's way.

You are so selective in your view.
SRP is not about a bunch of Overseas Khmer as portrayed in your warbed propanganda and twisted view. Most SRP members are local Khmers, when are you going to wake up ?

Anonymous said...

To democratize Cambodia, first get rid of Hun Sen and Hun cronies. After we will take it from there.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Pol Pot try to clean up and get rid off Lon Nol and his cronies too. The result, 2 millions Cambodian died, only to bring more destruction, more dictatorship, push Cambodia back to year zero.

If the opposition or SRP want to follow that foot step, think again, there will be a blood bath in Cambodia again if they come to power. You can't get rid of them without killing millions of them, is that the revolution to democracy Khmer style!! May God have mercy on us.

Anonymous said...

There is one and only one way:
Kill the leader.
Hun Sen needs that.
Romania did it, armies leaders killed JAO-JESS-KOU and Romania becomes democratic country.

Anonymous said...

12:34 PM,
you really lost,
don't compare Cambodia with China,
but look,
from democracy to dictatorship:

1) Multi-parties with limit of time for leader mandate like USA..

2) One party with limit of time for leader mandate like China..

3) Multi-parties without limit of time for leader mandate

4) FAKE Multi-parties without limit of time for leader mandate like Cambodia..

5) One party without limit of time for leader mandate

Anonymous said...

there are things you can do to destabilize Hun Sen's regime. # attack his policy.# attack his immigration law.#attack his foreign policy#attack his domestic policy and so no.

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Anonymous said...

Two wrong does not make it right. What is all this reactionary scrap on this site?

Anonymous said...

actually, all we need is for everyone to unite. To unite as we have each others arms holding together against every corrupt government official, military, or police.

because most of us just let other groups to fight for it, we are not doing anything to help them. And why? because most of us are afraid, that the government will come back to us. Or even worse instigate.

Are we going to be like this forever? from pol pot until now? this will not end!

Remember this, change will not happen if you leave it to others. you must do your part.

Start from yourself!

Or just take it, we are all cowards and traitors!!!

Anonymous said...

Let's kill the mother fucker Hun Sen!!!

Anonymous said...

Let's kill the mother fucker Hun Sen!!!

Anonymous said...

SAM Rainsy :

Vous appelez le peuple, les représentants dans les autres pays à vous soutenir, donc vous n'avez pas le droit de les abandonner, de les trahir pour faire plaisir à un individu le ROI.
Le Roi est juste un symbole, ce n'est pas un Dieu... Ne vous vous trompez pas !

On a droit de dire "Non " devant le Roi qui est lui même sous l'emprise de M. HUN Sen depuis des décennies !
Vous devriez penser aux intérêts des Millions de Population et non pas à une Personne...

Si vous n'êtes pas fidèle à vos supporteurs... il vaut mieux que vous vous démissionniez et arrêtiez la politique puis rentriez à Paris ...

M. HUN Sen est un voleur des élections, tout le monde le sait même vous.
J'espère que vous ne voudriez pas devenir un « Voleur de conscience du peuple Khmer »