Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said he plans to win at least three more national elections before finally stepping down at the age of 74.
In a speech to some 8,000 villagers in Kompong Speu’s Chbar Mon City to mark the groundbreaking of an $80 million Chinese-loan funded project to rehabilitate National Road 44, Mr. Hun Sen strongly rejected criticism aimed at the length of his reign as prime minister of Cambodia, which dates back to 1985.
Still, Mr. Hun Sen, who said he is now 61, stated he would make a concession from his previously declared retirement age of 90.
“I rule for so long because I started when I was young. What is the matter with working so long? It’s up to the people who vote for me. If they don’t vote for me, why should I stay?” he said.
He then drew a comparison with Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which was re-elected on Sunday, extending its 56 unbroken years in power, despite its worst-ever electoral performance.
“The topic is similar, with [opposition] demanding change, but the Malaysian people do not want change after they have ruled for 56 years,” he said.
“Their issues are similar to the Cambodian [opposition parties]: corruption, accusing foreigners of voting…. Lastly, they accused the [Malaysian] National Election Committee of faking the voter lists and having ‘ghost voters’—there is similar usage of [the accusation of] ghost voters, in Cambodia.”
Ahead of Cambodia’s national elections in July, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has repeatedly called for the reform of the National Election Committee (NEC) here, which it says is biased toward the ruling CPP.
“Here, they accuse us [the CPP] of ruling for too long, but in Malaysia, they have ruled for 56 years already, plus another five years for this term.”
“This time, I would like to declare that I accept it,” he said, pointing out that former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had stayed in power until age 74, and former Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai was 76 when he stepped down.
“So I have to wait until I’m 74 years old before I resign,” he said. “In 2023, I will be only 71 years old, so you have to wait…more than 10 more years.”
Mr. Hun Sen also took the opportunity to mock the opposition, which has delayed registering for the vote, demanding that the NEC reform before it does so.
Mr. Hun Sen said he had been informed that the CNRP—which was recently formed in a merger between the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party—was internally divided on which candidates to put up in Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Takeo and Kompong Speu provinces.
“Please, you should not hide. You have not agreed on the National Assembly candidates yet,” he said.
“You are not internally agreed. You said you need time to protest with the NEC relating to the voter list. Don’t be ashamed.”
“If you don’t register, we will have fewer parties for the election. If you don’t join the election, the other four parties will be happy since they will get more votes,” he added.
CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said the opposition would register in time and denied any talk of infighting.
“We are just waiting until the CPP register their list first so we can see their candidates and put our candidates to compete with them. We will register after May 10,” he said.
“[CNRP president] Sam Rainsy and I have already made an agreement on the candidates list.”
Mr. Sokha also said Mr. Hun Sen was “clinging on to power” by declaring that he won’t leave office until he is 74.
“This is not like other countries. He rules for more than 34 years, and now he wants to stay until he’s 74,” he said.
“Even communist countries like China and Vietnam change their leaders once every 10 years, although their ruling parties do not change,” he said, adding that the CNRP would amend Cambodia’s Constitution to limit prime ministers to two five-year terms.