Certain to win, Hun Sen to prepare handing over power to his son
by Steve Suwannarat

Results from Cambodia’s general election yesterday are not yet in, but the ruling party is expected to sweep the National Assembly. This will probably set the stage for the transfer of power in favour of Hun Manet, the 45-year-old, western-educated army commander.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The victory of the Cambodian People's Party in yesterday's National Assembly elections was a foregone conclusion:

Prime Minister Hun Sen left no doubt, although no results have yet been released, except for the turnout, at 84 per cent.

The prime minister noted that there was still some form of dissent, stating that those who spoiled their ballots would be identified and prosecuted.

In recent months, Hun Sen has had the main opposition party banned and has cracked down on every form of criticism of his government, which held all 125 seats in the outgoing National Assembly.

It is hard now to see anything other than a repeat. A former Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen became foreign minister in the government installed by the Vietnamese, which forced the genocidaires underground.

In 1985, he became the youngest head of government in the world, and has held on to power ever since. Now all attention is on the 70-year-old leader’s succession.

Three days before the vote, Hun cleared the path to a dynastic transition in favour of his eldest son, Hun Manet.

The 45-year-old, who studied economics in the United States and the United Kingdom, is a graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He currently serves as the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army and heads the country’s counterterrorism taskforce.

He likely won a seat in yesterday’s election and will probably see more doors open abroad once the new National Assembly is sworn in and his father officially announces him as his successor at the helm of the new government.

This might send a positive signal to the West, in particular the United States, which is not pleased to see Cambodia cosy up to China and is closely monitoring expansion underway at the Ream Naval Base with Chinese assistance, which could give China’s Navy a presence in the Gulf of Thailand.

During his reign, Hun Sen has been able to build a system based on personal loyalty to him and widespread repression of any political rival or social group critical of his rule, making Cambodia a de facto one-party system under the Cambodian People's Party.

International criticism of his regime has been constant but sanctions have not been imposed thanks to Chinese cover, which has made the small Southeast Asian country not only one of its allies but also a zone of transnational illegality, with human trafficking and cybercrime at top of the list.

Cambodia’s relative development has been achieved by selling off interests and natural resources to Hun Sen loyalists and foreign countries, and so now it has one of the highest inequality rates in Asia with widespread poverty and extensive rights violations.