Cambodia’s Elections: No Surprises, but an Uncertain Leadership Future

Prime Minister Hun Sen retained his grip on power after Cambodia’s stage-managed elections, with his party winning 120 out of 125 seats. But his long-awaited succession plan could create chaos and confusion in the country.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) affiliated with longtime autocrat Hun Sen looks to have won nearly every seat in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, to the surprise of no one. Yet, Cambodia faces significant political uncertainty going forward. Its young population is increasingly restive, and the state has grown more authoritarian. Hun Sen apparently wants to pass leadership to his son, Hun Manet, but powerful figures—and the public—could oppose Hun Manet’s accession.

Hun Sen has won convincingly. What happens next?

The longest-serving, non-royal leader in Asia remains in power. But seventy-year-old Hun Sen also has indicated that he now wants to step down and transfer power to his son, who served as commander of the army until he suspended his duties in that role to run for Parliament. Now that Hun Manet has won a seat, he can become prime minister once elected by a majority of the National Assembly and then inaugurated in front of constitutional monarch King Norodom Sihamoni. But few Asian leaders have achieved successful dynastic transitions, and Hun Manet has little of the legitimacy among Cambodia’s tycoons, powerful military men, and politicians that Hun Sen has amassed. It is also unclear whether Hun Manet would be willing to take harsh measures against opponents, as his ruthless father has done.

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