Cambodian Business and Politics

In a new article, The Institutionalisation of Oknha: Cambodian Entrepreneurship at the Interface of Business and Politics, Michiel Verver of the University of Amsterdam and Heidi Dahles of Griffith University, discuss the intertwining of politics and capitalism in contemporary Cambodia.

Their abstract states: Since the early 1990s in Cambodia, the title of “oknha” has been bestowed upon business people who make substantial financial contributions to national development projects. Recipients of this honour are identified by the leadership of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in particular Prime Minister Hun Sen. This article addresses the politics of awarding and receiving the oknha title as an expression of the reciprocal relationship between the Cambodian business elite and the CPP leadership, the so-called “elite pact.” This pact revolves around the tacit agreement that the oknha receive protection and privileges in their business ventures in return for loyalty and financial contributions to the CPP. Building on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, this article reveals the unequal albeit reciprocal patronage relationships that cement the interdependencies between business and state actors. In terms of theoretical contribution, this article proposes that oknha, being both the medium and the outcome of the encompassing patronage system, is subject to processes of institutionalisation within the elite organisational field and is turning into a template that regulates and orders entrepreneurial ventures at the interface of business and politics.


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