In Cambodia, Hun Sen Searches for the Magic Political Formula

The winner of next week’s election is clear, but the long-serving PM will face challenges in handing power to his eldest son while avoiding significant internal conflicts.

Cambodia’s long-time head of government had not seen this coming. At the end of June, a good three weeks before the parliamentary elections, Facebook announced that it would suspend the account of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has 14 million followers, for six months. The reason for this was a speech by Hun Sen in January, in which he threatened political opponents with violence, and which has since been publicly accessible as a video. The independent Oversight Board of Facebook’s parent company Meta considered this to be a violation of the user guidelines. To at least mitigate the loss of face of a ban, Hun Sen unceremoniously deleted his profile and the thousands of posts he had published there since 2016.

The good news for Hun Sen is that he will not have to face any more adversity in the coming weeks. With parliamentary elections scheduled for July 23, Cambodia’s autocratic leader, in office since 1985, has taken precautions and excluded the Candlelight Party, the only party that would have had a real chance of winning at least a few seats. Thus, as in the current legislative period, the National Assembly will probably continue to consist only of politicians from the post-socialist Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has been in power since 1979. Meanwhile, independent media that could criticize these blatant violations of the liberal-democratic constitution of 1993 have mostly ceased to exist.

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