Analysing the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea?

While the regime of Pol Pot is often described as a lawless dystopia the truth is much more complex, with their very much being laws, rules and indeed a constitution of Democratic Kampuchea.

What was Democratic Kampuchea?

Despite the fall of the Khmer Republic in April on 1975 and its takeover by the Khmer Rouge the state itself remained in a form of limbo. Yes it was ran by the Communist Party of Kampuchea and Pol Pot, but there was also the issue of King Sihanouk.

To read about Pol Pot click here

Sihanouk had aligned himself with the communists and was the titular head of the GRUNK front that had seized power. This led to perverse period of time where the Khmer Rouge regime still referred to themselves as the Royalist government. In essence this made him King of the Khmer Rouge.

To read about Sihanouk being King of the Khmer Rouge click here.

This could obviously not go on for ever and on January 5th 1976 Democratic Kampuchea was declared, initially with Sihanouk as head of state, latterly to by replaced Khieu Samphan

The Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea

The constitution of Democratic Kampuchea was a relatively simple affair containing a preamble and 17 chapters, many of them extremely short, meaning only 21 articles in the Democratic Kampuchean constitution.

While obviously drawn  up by the Party Centre there are still clear influences from other socialist countries as well as China in particular. Most interesting though are the elements related to Khmer Nationalism, and the unique beliefs of the Communist Part of Kampuchea itself.

To read about the Communist Party of Kampuchea click here


On the basis of the sacred and fundamental desires of the people, workers, peasants, and other labourers as well as those of the fighters and cadres of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army.

Whereas a significant role has been played by the people, especially the workers, poor peasants, the lower middle peasantry, and other strata of labourers in the countryside and cities, who account for more than ninety-five percent of the entire Kampuchean nation, who assumed the heaviest responsibility in waging the war for the liberation of the nation and the people, made the greatest sacrifices in terms of life, property, and commitment, served the front line relentlessly, and unhesitatingly sacrificed their children and husbands by the thousands for the fight on the battlefield;

Whereas great sacrifices have been borne by the three categories of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army who fought valiantly, day and night, in the dry and rainy season, underwent all sorts of hardship and misery, shortages of food, medicine, clothing, ammunition, and other commodities in the great war for the liberation of the nation and the people;

Whereas the entire Kampuchean people and the entire Kampuchean Revolutionary Army desire an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign Kampuchea enjoying territorial integrity, a national society informed by genuine happiness, equality, justice, and democracy without rich or poor and without exploiters or exploited, a society in which all live harmoniously in great national solidarity and join forces to do manual labour together and increase production for the construction and defence of the country;

And whereas the resolution of the Special National Congress held on 25, 26 and 27 April 1975 solemnly proclaimed recognition and respect for the above desires of the entire people and the entire Kampuchean Revolutionary Army;

Note – the preamble while very left-wing in rhetoric and ideology makes the first clear reference to the non-aligned nature and self-sufficiency of the country. The referencing to the peasants and army are also clear evidence of Maoist influences on the constitution of Democratic Kampuchea. 

The Constitution of Kampuchea states:

Chapter One

The State

Article 1 The State of Kampuchea is an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign, and democratic State enjoying territorial integrity.

The State of Kampuchea is a State of the people, workers, peasants, and all other Kampuchean labourers.

The official name of the State of Kampuchea is “Democratic Kampuchea”.

Note – Both State of Kampuchea and Democratic Kampuchea are used interchangeably, with neither Republic, nor Royal mentioned throughout. 

Chapter Two

The Economy

Article 2 All important general means of production are the collective property of the people’s State and the common property of the people’s collectives.

 Property for everyday use remains in private hands.

Note – Interestingly private property was to be protected at least from an ideological point of view, something that did happen in Democratic Kampuchea. 

Chapter Three


 Article 3 The culture of Democratic Kampuchea has a national, popular, forward-looking, and healthful character such as will serve the tasks of defending and building Kampuchea into an ever more prosperous country.

 This new culture is absolutely opposed to the corrupt, reactionary culture of the various oppressive classes and that of colonialism and imperialism in Kampuchea.

Note – This section is heavily influenced by the technically Maoist and anti-Revisionist nature of the regime 

 Chapter Four

The Principle of Leadership and Work

Article 4 Democratic Kampuchea applies the collective principle in leadership and work.

Note – The beefiness of this line is perhaps the most telling of the whole constitution, particularly with regards to what would be known as Angjar “The Organisation”

Chapter Five

Legislative Power

 Article 5 Legislative power is invested in the representative assembly of the people, workers, peasants, and all other Kampuchean labourers.

This Assembly shall be officially known as the “Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly”.

 The Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly shall be made up of 250 members, representing the people, the workers, peasants, and all other Kampuchean labourers and the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army. Of these 250, there shall be:

Representing the peasants 150

Representing the labourers and other working people 50

Representing the revolutionary army 50

Article 6 The members of the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly are to be elected by the people through direct and prompt general elections by secret ballot to be held throughout the country every five years.

 Article 7 The People’s Representative Assembly is responsible for legislation and for defining the various domestic and foreign policies of Democratic Kampuchea.

Note – While the assembly met once and geld no elections the division of representatives shows how much emphasis the regime put on the importance of the peasants over the workers, as well as another example of Maoist tendencies .  

Chapter Six

The Executive Body

 Article 8 The administration is a body responsible for executing the laws and political lines of the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly.

The administration is elected by the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly and must be fully responsible to the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly for all its activities inside and outside the country.

Note – This is very much in line with almost all other communist states of the time, putting a veneer of democracy on Democratic Centralism. Another system that for all intents was never put in place. 

Chapter Seven


 Article 9 Justice is administered by people’s courts, representing and defending the people’s justice, defending the democratic rights and liberties of the people, and condemning any activities directed against the people’s State or violating the laws of the people’s State.

 The judges at all levels will be chosen and appointed by the People’s Representative Assembly.

 Article 10 Actions violating the laws of the people’s State are as follows:

 Dangerous activities in opposition to the people’s State must be condemned to the highest degree.

Other cases are subject to constructive re-education in the framework of the State’s or people’s organisations.

Note – Another example of a theoretical provision that was not put into place. Justice in Democratic Kampuchea was usually quick and arbitrary. 

Chapter Eight

The State Presidium

 Article 11 Democratic Kampuchea has a State Presidium chosen and appointed by the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly once every five years.

The State Presidium is responsible for representing the State of Democratic Kampuchea inside and outside the country in keeping with the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea and with the laws and political lines of the Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly.

 The State Presidium is composed as follows: a president, a first vice-president, and a second vice-president.

Note – A father theoretical element with actual control of the party having not changed since the original Circle Marxiste 

Chapter Nine

The Rights and Duties of the Individual

 Article 12 Every citizen of Kampuchea enjoys full rights to a constantly improving material, spiritual, and cultural life.

 Every citizen of Democratic Kampuchea is guaranteed a living.

All workers are the masters of their factories.

All peasants are the masters of the rice paddies and fields.

All other labourers have the right to work.

There is absolutely no unemployment in Democratic Kampuchea.

 Article 13 There must be complete equality among all Kampuchean people in an equal, just, democratic, harmonious, and happy society within the great national solidarity for defending and building the country together.

Men and women are fully equal in every respect.

Polygamy is prohibited.

Article 14 It is the duty of all to defend and build the country together in accordance with individual ability and potential.

Note – Largely a classic Marxist constitution, but also one that shows that the nation did not plan to be agrarian for ever. The equal rights part was obviously not implanted as the Khmer Rouge took part in genocide against numerous ethnic groups. 

Chapter Ten

The Capital

 Article 15 The capital city of Democratic Kampuchea is Phnom Penh.

Note -For the entire existence of Democratic Kampuchea Phnom Penh reamined largely deserted. 

Chapter Eleven

The National Flag

 Article 16 The design and significance of the Kampuchean national flag are as follows:

 The background is red, with a yellow three-towered temple in the middle.

What was Democratic Kampuchea?
What was Democratic Kampuchea?

The red background symbolises the revolutionary movement, the resolute and valiant struggle of the Kampuchean people for the liberation, defence, and construction of their country.

 The yellow temple symbolises the national traditions of the Kampuchean people, who are defending and building the country to make it ever more prosperous.

Note – You can read about the flag of Democratic Kampuchea here

Chapter Twelve

The National Emblem

 Article 17 The national emblem consists of a network of dikes and canals, which symbolise modern agriculture, and factories, which symbolise industry. These are framed by an oval garland of rice ears, with the inscription “Democratic Kampuchea” at the bottom.

Chapter Thirteen

The National Anthem

 Article 18 The national anthem of Democratic Kampuchea is the “Dap Prampi Mesa Chokchey” [“Glorious Seventeenth of April”].

Note – This anthem was to remain the song of the Khmer Rouge after they lost power. 

You can read about the national anthem of Democratic Kampuchea here  

Chapter Fourteen

The Kampuchean Revolutionary Army

 Article 19 The three categories of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army—regular, regional, and guerrilla—form an army of the people made up of men and women fighters and cadres who are the children of the labourers, peasants, and other Kampuchean working people. They defend the State power of the Kampuchean people and of independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign, and democratic Kampuchea, which enjoys territorial integrity, and at the same time they help to build a country growing more prosperous every day to improve and develop the people’s standard of living.

Note – Not unlike in Maoist China, or the Military First Policy of the DPRK the army were held in the highest regards as the vehicles for the regimes power. This is one element of the constitution it can argued was strictly adhered to.  

Chapter Fifteen

Worship and Religion

 Article 20 Every citizen of Kampuchea has the right to worship according to any religion and the right not to worship according to any religion.

 Reactionary religions which are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and Kampuchean people are absolutely forbidden.

Note – While not officially atheist religion was heavily suppressed and this included Khmer religions, such as Buddhism. It should be noted that though that much like China and the DPRK “foreign religions” are specifically singled out. 

Chapter Sixteen

Foreign Policy

 Article 21 Democratic Kampuchea fervently and earnestly desires to maintain close and friendly relations with all countries sharing a common border and with all those near and distant throughout the world in conformity with the principles of mutual and absolute respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Democratic Kampuchea adheres to a policy of independence, peace, neutrality and non-alignment. It will permit absolutely no foreign country to maintain military bases on its territory and is resolutely opposed to all forms of outside interference in its internal affairs, and to all forms of subversion and aggression against Democratic Kampuchea from outside, whether military, political, cultural, social, diplomatic, or humanitarian.

Democratic Kampuchea refuses all intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, and scrupulously respects the principle that every country is sovereign and entitled to manage and decide its own affairs without outside interference.

Democratic Kampuchea remains absolutely within the great family of non-aligned nations.

Democratic Kampuchea strives to promote solidarity with the peoples of the Third World in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and with peace- and justice-loving people the world over, and to contribute most actively to mutual aid and support in the struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and in favour of independence, peace, friendship, democracy, justice, and progress in the world.

Note – The last and by far the longest chapter and one that is quite ironic considering how closed off from the world the country was to be. Again there is a Maoist reference to the three worlds theory, but also an almost Hoxhaesque nod to autarky and a Juche like self-reliance.

To read about Juche click here

Conclusion on the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea 

Through the lens of history it is easy to view the Constution of Democratic Kampuchea as a failure, which for all intents it was, lasting less than 3 years and seeing almost no elements embraced.

Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea
Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea

It does though also offer an insight into the inner-workings of the Khmer Rouge. The heavy references to socialism and the beliefs of the Pol Pot clique are tempered by Marxist and socialist references to various freedoms that would be enjoyed by the people.

It also clearly shows that the early craziness of “Super Great Leap Forward” were never intended to be full time. 

To read about the Super Great Leap Forward click here.

It was and as we have suggested a cash grab with the money being used to turn Cambodia into an industrialised, strong and neutral socialist utopia, and one that was achieved quicker  than anyone in history. 

In this respects the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea should not be seen as  work of fiction, but as something the leadership were aspiring for the country to eventually be able to put into practice.