In the Shadow of the Constitution: the Micropolitics of Constitutional Contestation in Cambodia
Open lecture with Benjamin Lawrence, Teaching Fellow, SOAS, University of London and Adjunct Research Fellow at NUS
Written during a United Nations-administered transition, as part of a hugely internationalized peace process, Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution is ostensibly guided by principles of liberal democracy, human rights and rule of law. With subsequent practice in Cambodia characterised by widespread corruption, impunity and increasing autocratisation, Cambodia’s Constitution is often assumed to be a mere “sham,” with constitutional contestation “muted” at best. Attention to the micropolitics of constitutional contestation, however, reveals instead that constitutional provisions and principles in fact pervade everyday social, cultural and political practices in Cambodia. Drawing on years of fieldwork, and archival research, this book project demonstrates how – since 1993 – not only formal political actors, but also Buddhist monks, NGOs, community leaders, artists and other lay actors have mobilised constitutional ideas and sought shape and reshape constitutional meaning. Viewed from this perspective, the Cambodian Constitution has simultaneously been used to facilitate and legitimate the (re)consolidation of single-party rule, and been the basis for numerous challenges to the CPP’s hegemony.
Benjamin Lawrence is a Teaching Fellow in Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies (National University of Singapore). Ben’s first monograph, titled In the Shadow of the Constitution: the Micropolitics of Constitutional Contestation in Cambodia is due for publication with Cambridge University Press in 2024. Elsewhere, his work has been published in a variety of international and regional journals, including Contemporary Southeast Asia, Journal of Law and Religion, Journal of Legal Pluralism and Critical Social Analysis, and in edited volumes such as Buddhism and Comparative Constitutional Law, Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia and The Routledge Handbook of Asian Parliaments. He received his Ph.D. in Law and Society from the University of Victoria (British Columbia) in 2020, an M.A. in International and Comparative Legal Studies from SOAS in 2012, and a B.A. in American History and Politics from the University of Leicester in 2008. Outside of academia, Ben has also worked with a number of international organisations, including the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s Post-Conflict Constitutional Building Project.