On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen announced that in three weeks, he will step down and hand the position to his oldest son, Hun Manet.
“I would like to ask for understanding from the people as I announce that I will not continue as Prime Minister,” Hun Sen averred. He has been Cambodia’s leader for 38 years.
The announcement came after their Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a sweeping victory in elections held on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
However, Western countries and rights organizations criticized the election as neither free nor fair as the country’s main opposition was suppressed.
Hun Manet, 45, who won his first seat in Parliament in Sunday’s election, is currently the Chief of the country’s army.
In a televised address, Hun Sen, who is Asia’s longest-serving leader, disclosed that he had informed King Norodom Sihamoni of his decision and that the King had agreed in a formality.
Hun Sen stated that his son would be named Prime Minister after the National Election Commission reports the final results of Sunday’s election, in which the CPP won 120 of 125 seats.
He added that a new generation would take over many of the top ministerial positions in the new government, which he said would be formed on August 22, 2023
“I ask people to support Hun Manet who will be the new Prime Minister,” Hun Sen said.
Even though he is stepping down from the prime ministerial role, Hun Sen is widely expected to remain closely involved in running Cambodia, and is also to become President of the country’s Senate.
After a challenge from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CHRP) in 2013 that the CPP barely overcame at the polls, Hun Sen responded by going after leaders of the opposition, and eventually the country’s sympathetic courts dissolved the party.
Ahead of Sunday’s election, the unofficial successor to the CNRP, known as the Candlelight Party, was barred on a technicality from running in the election by the National Election Committee.
The European Union criticized Sunday’s election as having been “conducted in a restricted political and civic space where the opposition, civil society and the media were unable to function effectively without hindrance.”
The EU said that it regretted that the Candlelight Party was excluded and called for detained opposition figures to be released. France also stated that the Candlelight Party’s absence “undermined the pluralist nature of the ballot.”
In a statement on Monday, July 24, 2023, U.S State Department Spokesman, Matthew Miller said, “These actions denied the Cambodian people a voice and a choice in determining the future of their country.”
He added that the U.S had taken steps to impose visa restrictions “on individuals who undermined democracy and implemented a pause of foreign assistance programs.”
No Policy Change Expected
Hun Manet is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy West Point graduate with a master’s degree from New York University and a doctorate from Bristol University in Britain.
Despite his Western education, observers do not expect any immediate shifts in policy after his father steadily moved Cambodia closer to China in recent years.
Under Hun Sen, Cambodia has become close to Beijing, benefiting from huge Chinese investment and infrastructure projects, including the redevelopment of a naval base.
China welcomed Sunday’s election, with President Xi Jinping sending Hun Sen a personal message of congratulations.
Meanwhile, critics claim that Hun Sen’s rule has been marked by environmental destruction and he has been accused of using the legal system to crush any opposition to his rule, including critical activists and troublesome union leaders as well as politicians.
Currently, Cambodia ranks 150th out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. In Asia, only Myanmar and North Korea rank lower.