Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, told Australian media on Friday night that his father united Cambodia in 1998 after 500 years of internal conflict and has since battled corruption with “the arrest and conviction of many high-level officials.”
In an interview with “The World” on Australia’s ABC News 24 channel, Lieutenant General Manet also said that he had never considered succeeding his father as premier and responded “not no, not yes,” when asked if he would take the position if the people supported him.
Lt. Gen. Manet arrived in Melbourne on Friday for a trip to strengthen the relationship between young members of the ruling CPP and the youth wing of Australia’s governing Liberal Party, and said in the interview that his father has made great progress while in power.
“There are factors we need to preserve and build upon. The things we need to preserve is, at any cost, the peace, stability and security for the nation. That is the fundamental—it’s the foundation for everything else,” Lt. Gen. Manet told the ABC’s Beverley O’Connor.
When Ms. O’Connor noted many people criticize the CPP government for “repression, corruption, and now potentially…nepotism,” Lt. Gen. Manet replied it was impossible to please everyone.
“There’s no way to hold people from making judgment on things. That’s human beings. People would see a glass—some would say half empty, some would say half full—it’s their view,” he said.
“The facts are that the country has moved from the day when people were being killed during the genocide regime up to the total peace and stability of the win-win policies never achieved in Cambodia,” Lt. Gen. Manet continued.
“The internal unity was absent for about 500 years. ’98, that’s when the whole country was under one unified government for the first time in about 500 years,” he said in a reference to the 1998 national election and the collapse of the Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement.
Lt. Gen. Manet also explained that it was unfair to single out Cambodia for corruption.
“Please name a country in the world that does not have corruption,” Lt. Gen. Manet said, arguing that the government has battled corruption hard.
“There’s also progress—the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Unit, the reform in many public sector services, the reform in education services, and the arrest and conviction of many high-level officials,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said yesterday that few would consider Mr. Hun Sen’s time in power as a time of peace compared to periods such as then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s 1960s reign.
“Look at all the destruction of natural resources, look at the poverty, which are still major issues. You have to look at the whole picture. We now have a fragile peace. It is not a genuine peace,” Mr. Chhay said.
“People cannot protest, people cannot speak out—an example of that is our people are still in jail,” he said, referring to a spate of recent jailings of opposition figures.
“Cambodia needs to move forward and build our institutions to provide good services to everyone, not just be a society under the hammer of the authoritarians, where only a handful of the powerful families benefit.”
Preap Kol, director of Transparency International Cambodia, added that Lt. Gen. Manet’s claim that there have been many convictions of high-level government officials for corruption was not entirely accurate.
Mr. Kol pointed to the life sentence handed down to former national anti-drug chief Moek Dara in 2012 for a number of drug-trafficking and corruption charges as the most high-profile such conviction.
“Then there’s been a few judges, prosecutors, and police officers, tax officers,” Mr. Kol added. “I wouldn’t necessarily consider them as high or senior officials but they come from the sector that is viewed as the most corrupt by the people: the judiciary.”
In Friday’s interview, Ms. O’Connor also pressed Lt. Gen. Manet about being “widely tipped” as Mr. Hun Sen’s successor.
“If the people want you, you’d be prime minister?” Ms. O’Connor asked, with Lt. Gen. Manet smiling silently. “Do I take that as a yes?” she asked.
“Not no, not yes. Not no, not yes,” he responded.