The foundations underpinning the tenure of one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers are starting to shake. For 35 years, Hun Sen has staked his claim to power in Cambodia through a combination of strongman rule and breakneck growth. But now the global pandemic threatens to leave the authoritarian with only one string to his bow. While the Southeast Asian nation reports only around 120 cases, its trade and China-reliant economy could implode and impoverish millions.
Hun Sen has long taken credit for Cambodia’s post-conflict development. By the early 1990s the country had been reduced to rubble by civil war and the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge, a communist regime that tried to turn it into an agrarian utopia.
Under his watch over following decades, the economy surged. Growth averaged 8% between 1998 and 2018, and the poverty rate fell from 47.8% to 13.5% in the seven years to 2014. The capital Phnom Penh now boasts trendy cafes, large shopping malls, glitzy real estate, and soaring skyscrapers.