Life After Hun Sen

Observations from Cambodia and beyond.

Charles Dunst, writing for the Council on Foreign RelationsAsia Unbound blog, takes a lengthy look at succession of power in Cambodia — specifically, the passing of CPP leadership from Prime Minister Hun Sen to his eldest son, Hun Manet.

The post is titled Can Hun Sen Pass Power to His Children?, which makes it sound like some legal or technocratic question. But that’s not quite right. Few, if any, observers deny that Hun Sen has the political clout to name a successor. The question is not can he do it, but rather, can he pull it off? And the answer to that, Dunst writes, is hardly the foregone conclusion that many assume.

Hun Sen’s plans for patrimonial succession would likely include elevating one of his sons, probably Hun Manet, to the top of the CPP’s organizational structure and then running him for prime minister in a sham election — a repeat of the unfree and unfair 2018 election, with a different figure at the top of the ticket. In order to keep up a democratic veneer, this succession would require some public campaigning and, despite a lack of legitimate electoral competition …

Indeed, while Hun Manet, if he was handed power, would initially control the armed forces, military police, and secret police, he so far appears to lack his father’s ability to appeal to the public and engender public support.

“Hun Manet’s military credentials do not automatically equal party support,” writes Jonathan Sutton of the University of Otago in East Asia Forum. “Whether he is capable of managing the endemic rivalries and factionalism that characterize the party remains to be seen.”

It is difficult to imagine Hun Manet, who has been described as “stiff”, according to Singapore’s TODAY news service, and lacks his father’s political capabilities, securing popular support or even convincing enough Cambodian elites to back him.

That is today’s view, at least. But Hun Manet is clearly being groomed for the role. And in another 10 years, who knows? Given the recent history, it’s tough to imagine a future where the Hun family plays a diminished role in the country’s affairs.

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