Cambodian elections 2023: Hun Sen’s party declares victory

Usman Deen
Usman Deen

Global Courant

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party declared victory on Sunday in staged parliamentary elections that paved the way for the first change in leadership since taking office nearly four decades ago.

While the official results will not be confirmed until Monday, the suppression of all meaningful opposition – often by force – meant that Mr. Hun Sen was always a virtual lock to win the election.

Sok Eysan, a spokesman for Mr Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, said on Sunday it had “won by a landslide”.

- Advertisement -

“We won almost all of the 125 seats,” he said. “Maybe only one or two seats were won by another party.”

Mr Hun Sen, 70, has announced that he will hand over the post to his eldest son General Hun Manet, 45, at some point after the vote. But Mr Hun Sen has made it clear that he will stay on as a power behind the throne.

“Even if I am no longer prime minister, I will still control politics as leader of the ruling party,” he said in June.

Mr Hun Sen underlined the dynastic nature of this transition, saying at a party rally last year: “I will be father to the Prime Minister after 2023 and grandfather to the Prime Minister in the 2030s.”

That dynastic succession within a parliamentary system, at the discretion of Mr. Hun Sen, shows the grip he has on power after eliminating virtually all opposition – through violence, coup, imprisonment, forced exile and manipulation of the courts. Hun Sen’s continued grip on his land is due to the region’s growing tendency toward authoritarianism.

- Advertisement -

A spokesman for the State Department, Matthew Miller, said on Sunday that the election “neither free nor fair.In response, he said, the United States “has taken steps to impose visa restrictions on individuals who undermine democracy” and has “implemented a pause on certain foreign aid programs.” Mr. Miller did not elaborate.

Authoritarianism in Cambodia is the end result, three decades later, of a $2 billion United Nations intervention designed to promote democracy and the rule of law in a country still torn apart by mass killings and civil war.

“The history of the international community’s ill-fated attempt to establish democracy in Cambodia should be required reading for anyone planning future United Nations peacekeeping operations,” Craig Etcheson, a former visiting scholar at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, said in an email.

- Advertisement -

The only credible opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was disqualified in May by the National Election Commission, which is accountable to Mr Hun Sen, making his party’s victory all but inevitable.

That was a repeat of Mr Hun Sen’s tactics prior to the last election five years ago, when the main opposition party, the Cambodian National Salvation Party, was forced to dissolve by the politicized courts. As a result, the Cambodian People’s Party took all 125 seats in the National Assembly, effectively making Cambodia a one-party state.

“This replay of the 2018 elections, which saw no opposition, should make it clear to the world that Hun Sen has definitively turned his back on democracy,” Mu Sochua, an opposition leader who fled Cambodia to avoid arrest, said in an email.

To ensure that the elections and possible succession go according to plan, Mr. Hun Sen tried to stamp out all potential opposition.

In February, he forced the closure of the Voice of Democracy, one of the country’s last independent news outlets. Dozens of opposition politicians have been imprisoned or fled into exile in recent years. The most prominent opposition figure remaining in Cambodia, Kem Sokha, was sentenced to 17 years of house arrest in March.

Sophal Ear, a political scientist at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, compared Mr. Hun Sen’s election manipulations to Cambodia’s track record as host of this year’s Southeast Asian Games.

By changing rules and adding obscure Cambodian sports such as ouk chaktrang, or Cambodian chess, and bokator, a Cambodian martial art, the country was able to increase its medal total to 282, an increase of 219 medals from the previous games’ total of 63 medals.

Mr. Hun Sen, a former middle rank of the Khmer Rouge, has practiced hard politics since he was installed as prime minister in 1985 under a Vietnam-backed government.

Six years earlier, a Vietnamese invasion had ended the Khmer Rouge’s murderous four-year rule in which 1.7 million people died of execution, starvation and overwork.

The Khmer Rouge fled into the jungles, unleashing a long-running civil war.

The United Nations intervened in 1992 after a peace deal and held elections that left Mr Hun in power as co-prime minister with his rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. A hard fighter, he quickly became the dominant partner in that position and then sole prime minister after deposing Prince Ranarridh in a 1997 coup.

In campaign speeches, he and his surrogates highlight his successes, including rapid economic growth, years of stability and the final downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

“Hun Sen is developing the country well, the country has peace and no war,” said Mai Kompheak, 25, who drives a three-wheeled taxi in Phnom Penh. “I don’t want to see Cambodia like Ukraine.”

Among his various predictions about the length of his tenure, Mr. Hun Sen in March 2021 that he would remain in this post “until I want to quit”. He’s been laying the groundwork for a dynastic transition for at least a decade, sidelining would-be challengers and publicly promoting his son, General Manet, for the job.

“For all his political successes over the past four decades, Hun Sen now faces a curious challenge: how to step back from a system in which he has made himself indispensable,” Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” wrote in an email.

It will be a risky time as he loses his grip on power, paving the way for potential power struggles and internal turmoil.

In addition to the office of Prime Minister, the elections in the coming years will mark a generational change of the old guard of top officials, many of whom will be succeeded by their sons.

“There is every indication that Manet, even more so than Hun Sen, will be imprisoned by the system his father created, and held hostage to the dynamics of loyalty and obligation,” added Mr. Strange. “It is unlikely that Manet possesses the ruthless instinct that helped his father stay at the top of Cambodian politics for so long.”

Mr. Hun Sen publicly announced in December 2021 that he supported his son. He later added some vague words of praise, saying, “Even if he can’t be like his father, his capacity should match his father’s at least 80 or 90 percent.”

He nursed his son for many years and gave him a western education, including a bachelor’s degree from West Point, a master’s degree from New York University, and a doctorate in economics from the University of Bristol in Great Britain.

He has quickly risen through the ranks of the Cambodian army and is now a four star general, army chief and deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

At the same time, he is in the inner circle of his father’s political party and heads the youth wing of the party, giving him a platform to engage with young voters, an increasingly influential segment of the electorate.

At a village meeting in May, Mr. Hun Sen also gave his son divine credentials, saying that his birth was blessed by a powerful local spirit that revealed itself as a bright light shining over Mr. Hun Sen flew the moment he was born.

“Manet may be the child of Nhek Ta Anchanh Koh Thmar,” he said, naming the mighty spirit.

Sun Narin contributed reporting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodian elections 2023: Hun Sen’s party declares victory

Asia Region News ,Next Big Thing in Public Knowledg

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *