Hun Sen’s Successor Must Keep Up His Chess Game

The son of Cambodia’s long-serving prime minister will face challenges to his leadership from powerful political families.

Within days of winning Cambodia’s general election in July, then-Prime Minister Hun Sen announced plans to hand the reins to his son Hun Manet. The succession plan was not a surprise. Hun Sen had deployed authoritarian tactics to hold on to power for 38 years, including banning the only legitimate political opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). His West Point-educated son had served as the deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for five years before being fast-tracked to four-star general in April, paving the way for him to take power. It is clear Hun Sen will still pull some strings: He remains the head of the CPP and will remain in office as Senate president until 2033.

Nonetheless, the speed of the Hun Manet’s succession was unexpected. Just before the election, Hun Sen abruptly began to float the idea of making his son prime minister soon after the CPP’s win, and he was appointed on Aug. 22. Hun Manet immediately replaced a swath of ministers from Hun Sen’s generation with young blood. (His father had long suggested it would be “impossible” to install his 45-year-old son in a position above the old guard.) But politically, this won’t amount to much change. Many CPP stalwarts were replaced by their children, a compromise that allows Cambodia’s most powerful families to retain some influence while aiming to keep that influence contained.

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