Considering Cambodia’s future beyond Hun Sen

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is nothing if not a political survivor. A player in every political regime in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge, his 38 years in office exceeds Soeharto’s 30-year official tenure as the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Mahathir Mohamad’s cumulative 24 years as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, or Ferdinand Marcos’ 21 years as the President of the Philippines.

The special case of Brunei’s absolute monarch aside, Hun Sen represents the last Southeast Asian incarnation of a type of long-ruling strongman once common in the region, but now mostly found only in Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

It goes without saying that this longevity can’t be credited to Hun Sen’s knack for retail politics. After he consolidated his rule in the 1990s, Cambodia settled into a form of so-called ‘competitive authoritarianism’ dominated by his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). After a close call in the disputed 2013 elections, Hun Sen’s tolerance of opposition parties and independent civil society waned. With the opposition having been demobilised and the independent media taken off air, a walkover victory for the CPP in the general elections scheduled for 23 July is a foregone conclusion.

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