This article demonstrates how theory can be built to explain cases of public administration reform failure in Asia. Drawing on the methodologies of middle range theory and grounded theory, qualitative data are gathered from the case of Cambodia and then analyzed. The result is the proposition that a specific constellation of reform-inhibiting factors explains the slow progress of public administration reform in Cambodia. At the center of the constellation is patronage. The cluster of surrounding and interrelated factors includes weak accountability, hegemonic political regime, high and legitimate power distance, low wages, and bureaucratic dysfunction. The chances of reform success increase with the removal or absence of these inhibiting factors. The analysis emphasizes the importance of political economy factors in determining the success or failure of public administration reform. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.