Constitution Day is a Cambodian public holiday that celebrates the Cambodian government’s transformation to a constitutional monarchy in 1993.
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Constitution Day is observed on September 24 each year. Banks and government offices in Cambodia are closed on Constitution Day. Due to the tragic events that occurred in Cambodia during the 20th century, Constitution Day is a time of historical reflection and optimism for the future. This holiday also celebrates the protection of human rights and limits on the power of the Cambodian government.
History of Cambodia and Constitution Day
To understand why Constitution Day is an important holiday for many Cambodian citizens, you must first learn about Cambodia’s turbulent past. Much of Cambodia’s history is characterised with violence, so the past two decades have been a reprieve for the people of Cambodia.
Cambodia was settled during the Stone Age. While the ancient Cambodians foraged when they first migrated to Southeast Asia, they quickly experienced an agricultural revolution. With a stable source of nutrition and income, Cambodians frequently traded with the people of China. Because of this trading, Cambodian culture was rich with artistic pursuits and religion by 700 CE. During its first 3,000 years of existence, most of Cambodia was divided. Cambodia was united into a single state when Jayavarman II formed the Khmer Empire.
The Khmer Empire transformed Cambodia into a strong agricultural society that enjoyed a strong economy. Hinduism and Buddhism also flourished in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Empire. The wealthy people of the Khmer Empire used their funds to build extravagant temples. One of the most famous temples created during this period was Angkor Wat. These temples continued to bolster the economy of Cambodia by attracting pilgrims and other travellers.
Unfortunately, Cambodia spiralled down a path of violence when Jayavarman V was killed in 1000 CE. This triggered a civil war that caused the deaths of many Cambodians. This war ended with Suryavarman I taking control of the Khmer government. In 1177 CE, Cambodia was invaded by the Chams from Vietnam. The Cambodians eventually drove the Chams out by 1220 CE, but the Khmer Empire was greatly weakened. In 1431 CE, the Thais successfully invaded Cambodia, and the Khmer Empire was dissolved.
Between 1500 CE and 1800 CE, Cambodia suffered many losses. To make matters worse for the people of Cambodia, Cambodia was also targeted during the 19th century. To avoid further attacks from the Thais and Vietnamese, the Cambodian government allowed the French to colonise areas of Cambodia. In 1941 CE, Cambodia was occupied by Japanese forces. The Japanese occupiers originally allowed the French officials to maintain their posts in Cambodia, but this decision was revoked when the Japanese forces began to lose World War II. To win the favour of Cambodia, the Japanese occupiers arrested the French officials and made a promise that Cambodia would be granted independence after the war. When Japan was defeated by the Americans, French powers recaptured Cambodia. Because of their collaboration with the Japanese, Cambodians were not allowed to participate in political affairs.
In 1953 CE, the French forces left Cambodia. King Sihanouk took control of the Cambodian government. Unfortunately, it did not take long for internal strife to interrupt this period of peace. Sihanouk was exiled by 1970 CE, and communists took control of the Cambodian government by 1975 CE. They established the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge were led by Pol Pot, a communist who caused the deaths of over 1.5 million Cambodians. His policies also resulted in extreme poverty. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge punished followers of religion and intellectuals with death. The Khmer Rouge was forced out of power when Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. In 1993 CE, Sihanouk returned to Cambodia as a constitutional monarch. Cambodia is now relatively peaceful.
Constitution Day allows the Cambodian people to hope for an optimistic future after nearly 1,000 years of violence and hardship.