Cambodia’s Hun Sen: The Tiger That Rules the Mountain

The author of a new book on Cambodia reflects on the long career of the former PM and international attempt to foster democracy in a conflict-torn nation.

Last month, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen relinquished the country’s top office after more than 38 years at the helm, handing over power to his eldest son, Hun Manet. Coinciding with the handover of power, part of a generational transition within Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), was the release of “A Tiger Rules the Mountain: Cambodia’s Pursuit of Democracy,” a new book about contemporary Cambodia by Gordon Conochie, a former journalist and long-time resident of Phnom Penh.

The book examines the subversion of the country’s democratic institutions, particularly since the election of 2013, when opposition forces came close to unseating the CPP. Conochie, now an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, spoke with The Diplomat about the ingredients of Hun Sen’s longevity, the self-perpetuating nature of the system that his son now heads, and what can be expected under the country’s new leadership.

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