Is Or Vandine Cambodia’s Future?

The U.S.-educated Health Ministry official has shot to prominence as the public face of Cambodia’s COVID-19 response.

In late December, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, the military chief Hun Manet, finally got the ruling party’s nod of approval to become the country’s next premier, a dynastic succession Hun Sen has long envisioned. When the handover will actually happen is a matter of speculation. I’ve suggested at some point between the 2023 and 2028 general elections (not a very exact guess, I grant). In anticipation, the sons and daughters of other political bigwigs are already on the move, and Hun Sen has instructed his son to start building a “reserve cabinet” of more youthful politicians. But what about those in the bureaucracy unable to pull themselves up by familial patronage?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Cambodian people have been fully acquainted with the Health Ministry spokesperson, Or Vandine, who is also a secretary of state at the ministry. She has been the “face of the pandemic” and public perception of her is “very positive,” one commentator told me. “She’s not out there saying crazy things and intimidating people,” I was told by another source. “She’s out there advising public health measures, like getting your booster shot so that you won’t get too sick from a COVID infection.” The commentator noted that she has been the “international face” of public health in Cambodia for years. When the health ministry wants to talk to a foreign agency, such as USAID, Vandine is sent.

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