In the summer of 2008, on the cusp of national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen sought to quash any and all talk that his son Hun Manet would enter politics so long as he was still in charge.
“I don’t allow my son to be a lawmaker while I am a father in power,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the time.
That was five years ago.
Months away from July’s national elections, senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Tuesday that the ruling party was putting at least two of the prime minister’s sons forward as candidates for Parliament.
“The party has approved the children of Samdech Decho [Mr. Hun Sen] to stand as CPP candidates for the national elections,” Mr. Yeap said.
“All the sons of Samdech Hun Sen have strong enough abilities in terms of higher education degrees and commitment. More importantly, they have all received a great example from their father, who has accomplished a lot in leading the country.”
Mr. Yeap said the CPP would be putting at least two of the prime minister’s sons forward, possibly all three, but declined to say more until the National Election Committee began accepting official lists of party candidates in late April.
Mr. Yeap said the time had come for the children of CPP leaders to start taking over from the old guard in the ruling party, and that his own son—Battambang deputy provincial governor Cheam Chansophoan—would be a reserve CPP candidate for the province.
“Everybody is getting old,” said the 67-year-old Mr. Yeap, who planned to run in this year’s elections for his last five-year term.
“We need the bamboo shoots to replace the bamboo trees,” he added.
As for Mr. Hun Sen’s sons, Manet, Manith and Many, all three have received overseas education, U.S. military training, and in recent years have assumed high-profile roles in public life, often featured on state-run TV at government events.
The most high-profile, Hun Manet, 35, has rocketed up the military chain-of-command in recent years. Among his many titles: Royal Cambodian Armed Forces major general; deputy chair of the RCAF Joint Staff; head of the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department; head of the ministry-spanning joint counterterrorism taskforce; and deputy commander of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit.
Mr. Hun Sen’s second eldest son, Hun Manith, 31, is an RCAF colonel and deputy head of the powerful Military Intelligence Unit. He also serves as deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution.
The youngest son, Hun Many, 30, spent a year studying at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and heads up the CPP’s all-important Voluntary Youth Movement.
Opposition SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was not surprised by the CPP’s plans for the prime minister’s sons to run in the elections.
“The prime minister is looking at all opportunities to promote his children to take over when he is old,” he said.
“[Party candidates] should be a decision of the party; we don’t want to interfere. But what we want is free and fair elections,” Mr. Chhay said.
Independent political commentator Lao Mong Hay said the move was aimed at creating a political dynasty in the Hun family.
“Father and sons have been building up their power base among the youth for several years,” he said. Running the prime minister’s sons in this year’s elections, he added, was “to groom them and make connections to other party members,” and for one of them to “eventually” replace their father as the next prime minister.
Mr. Hun Sen has hinted as much more than once, most recently in May while replying to “opposition parties” who had allegedly suggested that it was time for him to step aside.
Comparing himself to a devada, an angel in the Buddhist pantheon, Mr. Hun Sen said at the time, “If there is a replacement of the devada, the replacement must be someone from the devada’s family. If devada Sen is gone, there is also devada Kheng, devada Yan…and so on down the line,” he added, calling out other top CPP officials.
But Mr. Mong Hay said introducing the prime minister’s sons to the political process was also a canny move.
“Maybe it’s a good thing to get them directly and openly involved in politics,” he said.
The SRP’s Mr. Chhay agreed.
“People will have hope that the next generation will be more democratic and open-minded.”