The rise of a new Hun: Cambodia’s ruling party meets to plan its future | News

Cambodia’s ruling party is set to choose a successor to Prime Minister Hun Sen at an extraordinary conference on Friday, with the results set after the 69-year-old leader. supported The eldest son of the position.

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 37 years, announced on December 2 that “Hon Maneh is one of the candidates for the position of Prime Minister and receives the support of his father.”

His choice paves the way for a political dynasty, which critics say reflects Hun Sen’s fear of losing immunity when he can no longer rule. The Cambodian prime minister is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, ruling the Southeast Asian country for nearly 37 years. He actually transformed Cambodia into a one-party state, by banning the main opposition party in 2017 and cracking down on political opponents, rights groups and journalists.

I will support and know [Hun Manet] Hun Sen said about his son last year. “If he is not as capable as his father, he may get at least 80 to 90 percent of me. However, he depends on the votes of the people. The first concern is whether the party will accept him. The second is the general election.”

While Hon Mane, 44, is associated with the country’s top political role, he currently holds no public office and has far more experience in uniform than in politics. After graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point, he quickly rose through the ranks, overseeing negotiations during a border dispute with Thailand in 2011, at the age of only 33. In 2018, he was promoted to the commander of the Cambodian army, holding the second highest military position in the country. His limited political experience is in the party apparatus, where he serves in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the powerful Standing Committee and heads the youth wing.

Cambodian Prime Minister poses with his eldest son Hon Mane after graduation ceremonies at West Point on May 5, 1999 [File: Jeff Christensen/Reuters]

Even if the CPP supports Hun Maneh, he may not take office until at least 2028, as his father has been reluctant to transfer power any time soon. Hun Sen said on December 2 that he might remain in power for another 10 years, and confirmed on December 6 that he intended to remain the country’s prime minister in the next elections in 2023.

Analysts said Hun Sen’s decision to endorse his son as his successor years before the actual relocation brought risks to Hun Sen, especially since there are signs that some in the CPP do not agree with the move.

“I thought the 2023 election was the best time to transfer power,” said Lee Morgenbesser, a senior lecturer at Australia’s Griffith University, noting that Hun Sen currently has the full support of the CPP, security services, and the business community and “does not face serious political opposition.”

“Suggesting that he will transfer power to Hun Manet in 2028 risks putting a target on his son’s back. If other members of the political elite feel upset with Hun Manet’s choice, they now have plenty of time to take on the challenge,” Morgenbesser said.

‘The party leadership does not agree’

Lao Mong Hai, a veteran Cambodian political analyst, said Maneh’s succession is likely but not guaranteed, and recent tensions between Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Khing were a hint that “the party leadership has not approved his son’s nomination.”

Kheng has long been seen as Hun Sen’s strongest rival within the CPP, and he has not joined the fray of high-ranking politicians who supported Maneh. When he finally broke his silence, Kheng pledged to support the party’s candidate, but did not specifically mention Mane.

To address any grievances, Lao Mong Hai expected Hun Sen to engage in a bit of a “horse trade”. In addition to introducing his son as a candidate for prime minister, Hun Sen was also looking forward to refreshing the upper echelons of the CPP at the upcoming party congress. He planned to nominate a “reserve cabinet”, consisting only of politicians under the age of sixty, who would then be gradually transferred to high-ranking positions. These positions can be used to calm any opponents.

While most people believe Mane will take over as prime minister, few expect him to redefine Cambodian politics. When asked what he expected of Mane as a leader, Lao Mong Hai commented instead on the political system built by his father.

“The party-state system is so well-established to protect the interests of the current ruling elite and the interests of its friends that it is very difficult to introduce new ideas because these new ideas will almost inevitably affect those interests and can disintegrate the entire system,” he said.

In a recent article, academic Kevin J. Doyle studied Hun Sen and Mane’s behavior on social media, arguing that Mane was trying to “emulate” his father by creating a friendly, apolitical online figure.

Doyle, the former editor-in-chief of the now-closed Cambodia daily, analyzed nearly 2,400 photos posted to Mane’s Facebook page, and found that nearly 20 percent of the photos showed him cuddling or in close contact with young or old members of the community. the public. . Nearly 12 percent showed him posing for selfies. In contrast, only 5% are associated with elections or campaigning.

Doyle said he also copies his father’s practice of advertising “gift-giving activities” online. He wrote, “By repeating the gift-giving practices followed closely by his father, Hon Maneh also indicates the upholding of the political and economic system upon which the CPP sponsor-client database is built.”

Chinese influence

Astrid Noreen-Nelson, author of The Second Kingdom of Cambodia, said she did not expect anything “totally different” from Mane in terms of “leadership style” or “political liberalization”.

She, like Hun Sen, said Manet is “adaptive and responsive” and could “start his prime ministership” with some minor reforms to appease political opponents. But with so much time left before moving on, it is “almost impossible to know” who these concessions are targeting.

Noreen Nelson predicted that Mane was unlikely to oversee any major turn westward, as relations between Cambodia and the United States had soured in recent years, including between their two armies.

Citing “China’s growing influence”, the United States announce An arms embargo earlier in December imposed sanctions on Cambodia’s top defense officials. In 2016, Cambodia launched annual joint military exercises with China, and canceled similar exercises with the United States one year later. Meanwhile, Mane, who is also the Cambodian army chief, met with a Russian security delegation in December and pledged to increase military cooperation.

Although Cambodia continues to delve deeper into China’s orbit, Noreen-Nelson said she expected him to remain flexible in the international arena, and said his background could facilitate the negotiations that suffered under his father’s leadership.

While Manet spent most of his youth in New York, Hun Sen struggled to learn the basics of English and grew up in a rural Cambodian village during a communist rebellion and an American bombing campaign.

“His international standing will depend entirely on realpolitik considerations and the geopolitical context at any point in time. If at some point it leads to a rapprochement with Western powers, his educational background may help make these exchanges more comfortable than they were in the past,” said Noreen Nelson. the past”.

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