After I first met Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, I didn’t have a lot hope for his future.
A seemingly shy, easy man appeared earlier than me in January 1980 on the overseas ministry in Phnom Penh. He was then overseas minister, quickly to be deputy prime minister.
A Khmer Rouge battalion commander, Hun Sen had misplaced a watch in the course of the battle. Defecting from the murderous Pol Pot regime (1975-1979) to the Vietnamese in June 1977, he acquired intensive tutoring from Hanoi’s communist leaders. Eighteen months later, Hanoi moved to oust Pol Pot and set up Hun Sen as a key member of the brand new Khmer management.
I figured when Hanoi lastly ended the occupation of Cambodia, because it did in 1989, Hun Sen would disappear together with the Vietnamese.
Nicely, he didn’t.
The Vietnamese skilled Hun Sen effectively – within the artwork of sustaining single-party rule. Outmanoeuvring or suppressing each opposition political chief and outlawing each opposition get together, Hun Sen used a Leninist Communist Social gathering mannequin to successfully construct his Cambodian Folks’s Social gathering (CPP).
When the nation votes in nationwide elections on July 23, it would win by a landslide – retaining the facility it has held for greater than 40 years.
However this election is completely different.
A dynasty is being put into place. If all goes to plan for Cambodia’s ruler, this might be his final election. A political succession must be cemented by the point the following election is remitted in 2028 and Hun Sen has celebrated his 76th birthday.
Cambodia is transferring into a brand new period – one the place the reminiscences of the wars of the Nineteen Seventies, the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge, and the occupation of the Vietnamese are quick disappearing into distant historical past. Solely 10 % of this nation of 16 million are over the age of fifty with reminiscences of the turbulent previous.
Hun Sen has ready his three sons to proceed his rule. His youngest, 40-year-old Many, sits within the Nationwide Meeting with a distinguished place among the many rising youth wing of the CPP. His center son, Manith, has simply been promoted to the higher ranks of the Cambodian military.
And his eldest son, Manet, has stepped down as head of the military and can enter the Nationwide Meeting subsequent month. Hun Manet, 45, has been meticulously groomed, with the place of prime minister prone to open up for him quickly.
Born the identical yr his father joined the Vietnamese to overthrow the Khmer Rouge, Manet has led a largely pampered life as his household, born into poverty, grew in energy and wealth.
In Could 1999, Manet acquired a Bachelor of Science diploma, majoring in economics from the USA Navy Academy at West Level. (Thus far solely three Khmer have ever attended West Level.) In 2002, Manet continued his economics examine at New York College, capping it off with a PhD from the College of Bristol in the UK in 2008.
He then returned dwelling to maneuver up the ranks of the army and obtain the continued tutorage of his father.
However does Manet have the abdomen for the cut-throat, winner-takes-all, politics Hun Sen has perfected over greater than 4 many years?
One pal of Manet, who has identified him for 20 years, informed me if it weren’t for his father, Manet can be content material as a trainer: a professor of economics at a high college.
To this point Manet has made all the correct strikes. If in Maoist phrases politics stems from the facility of the gun, the military is safely secured.
Manet has labored to develop ties amongst these aged below 50 within the enterprise group and steer the ageing CPP in direction of a youthful membership.
Any ideas, nonetheless, that Manet would possibly emerge as both a forceful political or financial reformer, easing the ironclad controls of the CPP, I think, are largely pipe goals.
Hun Sen leaves his son some good and quite a lot of unhealthy points with which to wrestle.
Cambodia’s economic system continues to develop at a powerful price. It weathered the COVID-19 pandemic higher than many nations and the World Financial institution predicts financial progress at 5.5 % this yr.
However progress is uneven at finest. Hun Sen sits atop a corrupt kleptocracy with the privileged city elite reaping a lot of the advantages because the hole continues to widen between the wealthy and the bulk rural poor.
Hun Sen will educate his son to adapt. Hun Sen calculated that defecting to the Vietnamese was the trail to the successful aspect. As Cambodia moved into the twenty first century, he then realised that bowing to his massive northern neighbour, China, meant sturdy funding and assist from a superpower that might by no means query him on problems with press freedom, human rights or notions of multi-party democracy.
And Hun Sen just isn’t going away. He admires earlier long-serving Asian leaders at dwelling and overseas. King Norodom Sihanouk stepped away from the monarchy to wrest colonial energy away from the French after which dominated for an additional 17 years.
The much more refined Lee Kuan Yew turned senior minister after which minister mentor effectively into his son’s time period as Singapore’s prime minister. Minister mentor is a title Hun Sen would possibly effectively prefer to embrace. After mentoring his son into the prime minister’s job, Hun Sen will seemingly stay chair of the get together.
In March 2001, a pal of mine managed to affix Hun Sen for a spherical of golf. The prime minister took up the game within the Nineteen Nineties and performs on a personal course south of the capital.
Hun Sen complained he was placing on weight which was getting in the way in which of his golf swing. My pal watched the prime minister drive a ball into the tough. After just a few fruitless minutes of looking, Hun Sen returned to a great place within the centre of the golf green and casually dropped a brand new ball. No penalty strokes.
He stated nothing and neither did anybody else. In politics as in golf, the longest serving chief in Asia performs by guidelines he units for himself to his constant benefit.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.