In late December, 65-year-old CPP Senator and well-known tycoon Men Sarun died of a reported heart attack at his home in Phnom Penh. A mere three weeks later on Jan. 11, RCAF intelligence chief General Mol Roeup, who was a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, died at the age of 62 in Calmette Hospital due to complications from diabetes and a heart attack.
Today, veteran CPP lawmaker Chea Soth is scheduled to be cremated at a state funeral at Wat Botum after he passed away on Saturday at the age of 86. Party officials attributed the death to old age.
For decades, members of the ruling CPP have seen their party grow in power, wealth and success, winning more seats in the National Assembly at every national election since 1993. But as an era of CPP stalwarts begins to succumb to old age questions are being asked of who will fill the seats of the next generation of CPP elite.
Analysts say that the greatest likelihood will be for the empty positions of the deceased CPP leaders to be filled with their close allies and even closer family members of a younger generation.
“It seems that the tendency is that of kinship,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst. “In the CPP…within some ministries there are powerful families and the longer the ministries are being run by them, the more power and positions there are for family members.”
Within ministries and government departments, CPP children are following their parents into politics. At the very top of the chain of command it would appear that preparations are being made for the handing over of duties to the next generation of kin and kith.
On Jan 14, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s second son, Hun Manith, was promoted to colonel and deputy head of the powerful Military Intelligence unit. In November, Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s son, Sar Sokha, deputy police chief of Phnom Penh, received his first general’s star. And in July, Mr. Hun Sen’s son-in-law, Dy Vichea, was promoted by royal decree to the rank of police major general in the Interior Ministry.
Still, analysts and government officials also say that the younger generation of CPP hopefuls will have to fight harder to gain a government position as more of the children of the elite come back from being educated overseas. They also say that the younger generation could be tempted more to go into business than a life in politics.
“The young ones were not very active in the revolution, but they are better trained, such as secretaries of state from different government departments,” said Mr. Mong Hay.
“It’s a problem for the CPP in the sense that power is centralized and there is no reshuffling of the Cabinet…. The structure of the government and ministries…seem to rely on the Prime Minister all the time,” he added.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that there was a sense of obligation within the families of high-ranking officials for their sons and daughters to follow in their parents’ footsteps into government.
“High-ranking families are educated abroad and [the children] trained as leaders so they don’t mind about how much money they make, but they care about contributing, like their mothers and fathers, who they saw doing government business every day,” Mr. Siphan said.
He also said that there could be less interest among them in becoming politically involved due to the growing attractiveness of doing business in Cambodia.
“In the Council of Ministers, we encourage a younger generation to fill up places under a scheme of reform; that’s why one is supposed to retire and leave a space for the younger generation…. But the younger generation are getting jobs in the private sector and are less interested, [in politics]” Mr. Siphan said.
But the line between politics and doing business is often blurry in Cambodia.
“In the countries where the rules of law and a fair, level playing field for both business and politic have not been enforced, it is obvious that businesses and politics are very well linked,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International in Cambodia.
“Businesses can be used as an effective mechanism to generate financial support for politics and on the other hand politics generate powers and authorities to support businesses,” he said.
“This situation exists in many countries where rules of laws are weak. There are some highly visible cases where businesses are well protected by political power although sometimes they violated the laws or abuse the citizens’ rights. The common root cause [of] these problems often come from nepotism and corruption.”
Despite the consensus that power looks set to stay firmly in the hands of the existing CPP leadership, some are hopeful that a younger generation whose political ideologies were not forged during the 1970s and 1980s will allow Cambodia to embrace more fully the ideals of freedom and democracy as enshrined in the Constitution.
“The younger generation are educated in developed countries, so in terms of democracy, freedom…I feel that the younger generation will be more focused on an open and participatory society,” said Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst.
For Mr. Mong Hay the most important question at stake is whether or not the CPP can stay unified as the older generation dies and new blood and personalities enters the mix.
“The bottom line is to keep people together; maintain the unity of the party. But whether the younger generation can succeed in maintaining and consolidating that unity is an open question,” he said.