Hun Manet, elected as the new PM of Cambodia

H6 Hun Manet Cambodia

Cambodia’s national assembly has formally chosen the eldest son of the outgoing premier Hun Sen as the new prime minister of the country. This power transition has drawn comparisons to the dynastic leadership seen in North Korea within the Southeast Asian context.

Hun Manet, a 45-year-old four-star general in Cambodia’s military, secured his position through the unanimous support of all 123 members of the country’s lower house of parliament who were present for the vote held on Tuesday. After the vote, Hun Manet addressed lawmakers, emphasizing the historical significance of the day for Cambodia.

The decision for Hun Manet to assume the role of prime minister came after Hun Sen’s party won the recent national elections, which were widely criticized for lacking serious electoral competition. Nearly all of the 125 seats in the parliament were won by members of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Furthermore, numerous other high-ranking officials from the ruling party are stepping aside to make room for their children and other relatives to take on government roles.

The eldest among Hun Sen’s five children, Hun Manet was born in 1977 in rural Cambodia. In contrast to his father, who did not have the opportunity for formal education, Hun Manet received a privileged education. He earned a master’s degree from New York University and a doctorate in economics from Britain’s Bristol University. He is also a graduate of the West Point military academy in the United States. He has rapidly advanced through the ranks of Cambodia’s armed forces, taking on various roles such as leading a counter-terrorism team, serving as the deputy chief of his father’s bodyguard unit, and holding positions as army chief and deputy military commander.

However, it’s important to note that while Hun Manet now holds the title of prime minister, Hun Sen is expected to retain a significant influence in Cambodian politics and power, both symbolically and practically, as noted by observers and political opposition figures. Aged 71, Hun Sen has also revealed his plans to become the president of the Senate and maintain various other positions for at least another decade.

In an address made on August 3 when he announced his resignation as prime minister, Hun Sen assured that he wouldn’t interfere with the new government led by his son but indicated he could return if necessary to prevent turmoil. On Tuesday, Hun Sen reiterated that he hasn’t withdrawn from the public sphere and encouraged people to remain calm while stating his intention to become the president of the Senate in early 2024.

Hun Sen has held power in Cambodia since 1985, making him one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers. He is acknowledged for his role in fostering economic growth and peace in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for one of the most devastating mass killings of the 20th century. However, he is also regarded as an authoritarian figure with a concerning human rights record. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), under his leadership, has maintained a stronghold on Cambodia for many years, even though it has faced competitive elections.

Hun Sen also criticized analysts who claimed that he had passed on the title of prime minister to his son but not the real power, dismissing such assessments as ignorant.

Despite these developments, observers believe that not much has fundamentally changed, emphasizing that Hun Sen remains the central authority in the country. They assert that the true test of power transition will occur when Hun Sen is no longer present. Significant changes in the political landscape are unlikely to occur.

Nevertheless, Hun Sen’s voluntary decision to step away from his long-held position as one of the world’s longest-serving leaders holds great significance. It signifies a leadership shift in a country that he has governed with an iron grip for nearly four decades.

Hun Sen’s handing power to his son resembles a North Korean-style dynastic transition. Repression would likely be used to maintain control during this potentially fragile transition.

Hun Manet’s elevation to the top position, especially given his lack of a proven track record in Cambodian politics, is seen as a challenge. Many Cambodians are wondering how more experienced and older ruling party members will accept guidance from a relatively young leader, with no political experience.

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