Hun Sen Stands in the Way of His Own Succession Plan

Cambodia’s prime minister has outmaneuvered political opponents and groomed his oldest son for power, but does he know when to walk away?

Cambodia’s ruling party once again waltzed to a lopsided victory in local elections this month, winning more than 99 percent of open commune chief seats amid allegations of irregularities. That wasn’t a surprise: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled the country for nearly 40 years, and in 2017, a political crackdown on the opposition turned Cambodia into a de facto one-party state.

With elections meaningless, all eyes are on Hun Sen’s oldest son, Hun Manet. The 44-year-old has been groomed to succeed his father; he currently commands the Cambodian army. At its party congress last December, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) formally anointed Hun Manet as its next candidate for prime minister when Hun Sen decides to step down. But the 69-year-old autocrat has approached his final political challenge—cementing his dynasty—with caution.

Hun Manet graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and his Western education continued at New York University and the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. He came to national attention in Cambodia when he took on a major role during border clashes with Thailand between 2008 and 2011. Since 2020, Hun Manet has served as the head of the CPP’s youth wing, widely seen as a training ground for the party’s next generation of leaders.

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