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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announces resignation, paving the way for dynastic succession

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced his historic resignation after almost four decades of rule, revealing a plan for dynastic succession. Critics accuse his regime of stifling opposition and freedom of expression. Despite stepping down as Prime Minister, Hun Sen intends to retain significant influence, signalling continuity in his hardline approach.



PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, made a historic announcement on Wednesday that he will resign from his position after almost four decades of hardline rule.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has wielded power in the kingdom since 1985, employing stringent tactics to eliminate opposition, ban opposition parties, force challengers into exile, and suppress freedom of expression.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Hun Sen, claimed a staggering victory in the recent elections, securing 82 per cent of the vote in a contest that lacked any meaningful opposition. The only serious contender, the Candlelight Party, was disqualified on a technicality before the election, raising concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the electoral process.

While the government celebrated the 84.6 per cent voter turnout as a sign of democratic progress, Western powers, including the United States and the European Union, decried the elections as neither free nor fair.

In his televised address to the nation, the 70-year-old Hun Sen requested understanding from the people as he announced his decision to step down as prime minister. He revealed his plan for dynastic succession, passing the torch to his eldest son, Hun Manet, a 45-year-old four-star general. This move has drawn comparisons from critics to the dynastic power transitions observed in North Korea.

The younger Hun Manet has been actively involved in the political landscape and played a prominent role in the campaigning for the recent election. However, despite the transition of power, the outgoing leader made it clear that he intends to retain influence even after stepping down. He disclosed his intention to assume the position of the president of the senate and act as the head of state during the king’s overseas engagements.

Throughout Hun Sen’s rule, Cambodia has fostered a close relationship with China, benefitting from substantial Chinese investments and infrastructure projects.

Notably, the redevelopment of a naval base with Chinese assistance has raised concerns in Washington. China has welcomed the outcome of the recent election, with President Xi Jinping extending his personal congratulations to Hun Sen.

However, the influx of Chinese investment has also brought its set of challenges. The country has witnessed a proliferation of casinos and online scam operations, often staffed by exploited foreign workers toiling in dire conditions.

Additionally, critics have accused Hun Sen’s government of environmental destruction and entrenched corruption.

Cambodia’s ranking of 150th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index highlights the severity of the issue. In Asia, only Myanmar and North Korea fare worse in terms of perceived corruption.

Hun Sen’s tenure has been marred by accusations of using the legal system to suppress opposition, targeting critical activists, union leaders, and political opponents.

Several opposition politicians have faced convictions and imprisonment during his rule. Prior to the recent election, the law was amended to make it illegal to advocate for voters to spoil their ballots, tightening the grip on political dissent.

As an illustration of this crackdown on the opposition, exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy was banned from running for office for 25 years, merely five days before polling day.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha faced similar treatment, receiving a 27-year prison sentence on charges of treason over an alleged plot to overthrow Hun Sen’s government. Presently, he serves his sentence under house arrest.

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