Cambodia’s Political Succession Could Get Messy

Hun Sen made it official: he is positioning his eldest son as his successor. Is the CPP ready for a generational change?

“I declare today to support my son to be the next prime minister but it means nothing without an election. It must be voted on,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on November 2, adding another layer of intrigue to an already eventful week, which saw the rupture of the two opposition leaders’ long-held partnership.

Hun Sen had made some comments in the past about Hun Manet, his eldest son and now all-but-certain successor, taking over, but only hypothetically. In 2018 he called Manet, now the de-facto military chief, a “possible future leader.” But by the end of 2019 he stopped publicly commenting on the matter. Hun Sen also refused to say, for a certain period, how many more years he wanted to remain in power.

Two reasons may explain why Hun Sen this week made his clearest comment yet about Hun Manet’s succession. He’s no doubt buoyed by what appears to be the final stage of the collapse of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the only viable opposition party, which was forcibly dissolved in late 2017. (I’ve reported on that at length here and here.) Sebastian Strangio, writing here in The Diplomat, said “it would be surprising” if the split between opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha “didn’t play into Hun Sen’s decision to throw his weight behind Manet’s political prospects.”

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