Cambodia transits from ‘strongman’ Hun Sen to ‘strongson’ Hun Manet

At a mass rally on 1 July 2023, with campaigning underway for Cambodia’s upcoming general election, Prime Minister Hun Sen symbolically handed over the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) flag to his eldest son — Hun Manet — who is expected to soon succeed him as premier.

While Norodom Sihanouk is remembered as Cambodia’s ‘King Father’, Hun Sen will presumably want to go down as something akin to the ‘Prime Minister Father’. As Hun Sen’s myth-making goes, he was the person who finally brought peace and stability to Cambodia, ending the country’s three-decade civil war in the 1990s. And he brought a measure of prosperity to Cambodia — a famine state when he took over. Cambodia’s GDP per capita rose from US$247 in 1993 to US$1625 in 2021. He has also defended Cambodian sovereignty. The degree to which Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, is solely responsible for these developments is debatable. But Cambodia has irrevocably changed for the better during his tenure.

The problem for the 45-year-old Hun Manet is that he will not be able to lay claim to any of those narratives. He will take over a country that is already peaceful and economically stable. His is not a rags-to-riches story. He is a privileged princeling who was expensively educated in the West and then parachuted into the military and the ruling party. Some members of the CPP think he was forced upon the party as its next prime ministerial candidate.

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