Hun Sen Plods Along With Cambodia’s Leadership Succession

It is unclear when Hun Sen will give up the prime ministership, but the country’s long-planned transition is in many ways already in progress.

At the time of writing, it’s rather unclear what the Cambodian cabinet is trying to achieve by amending the constitution again – the third time in four years. The government is tight-lipped. Because we know what articles are under review, it seems they are trying to change how prime ministers are appointed and how they can be removed from office. Possibly, this will remove certain powers from the National Assembly. Most likely, the changes are being made because of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s succession plans.

In December, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) selected Hun Manet as its next prime ministerial candidate once Hun Sen, his father, resigns. Sar Kheng, the interior minister, took exception, but Hun Sen appears to have now put him in his place. Talk of a Sar Kheng putsch is fanciful; he’s lost even more power after two new party vice presidents were appointed in December. The CPP itself easily won last month’s commune elections, and we can expect another rout at next year’s general election. Kem Sokha’s trial seems to be nearing a climax, yet whatever the result, his partnership with Sam Rainsy is as good as over, ending the united opposition.

Because of the pace of changes, and the CPP’s (and Hun Sen’s) political strength right now, it’s tempting to think he might favor an early handover. But, in reality, there isn’t any great hurry. Only ill health would disrupt the succession, and Hun Sen is 69, younger than most of his CPP rivals and political opponents. Hun Manet is only 44. Time, it seems, is on their side. The economy is fine, despite the pandemic and crises this year. It’ll be stronger the longer Hun Sen waits for succession. There’s a new political challenger in the Candlelight Party, but it could be dissolved all too easily if Hun Sen wanted.

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