As youth-led protests have rocked Thailand’s military-dominated government over the past month, breaching the “taboo” of openly criticizing the country’s monarchy, in neighboring Cambodia the ruling party is busy trying to recast its image as a “mass movement” attuned to the needs of Cambodia’s young population.
Photos shared on Facebook of the latest meeting of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)’s youth wing are what one might expect: a riot of selfies and beaming smiles. Yet many of the faces in these images are oddly unyouthful; indeed, they included an abundance of receding hairlines and expanding waistlines. Despite the average Cambodian being just 25.6 years old, the CPP’s definition of youth appears to mean anyone under 50.
That includes the likes of Hun Manet, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, who was promoted from vice-president to president of the CPP’s youth wing in June. It’s an open secret that Hun Sen wants to hand power to one of his sons, most likely Manet, and in the past 12 months has tentatively said as much. (Refer to my previous pieces on Manet for more on this backstory, in particular: “Hun Manet: The Next Prime Minister of Cambodia?”) Whether that’s possible any time soon is one of the main questions running through the Phnom Penh grapevine. But rather than seeing this as a simple handover of the prime ministerial mantle, it should instead be seen in broader terms as a generational handover within Cambodia’s ruling party.