11 July 2024

Cambodia’s parliament on Tuesday elected long-time ruler Hun Sen’s eldest son as the new prime minister, sealing a dynastic handover of power after last month’s one-sided polls.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all but five seats in the lower house in the July election, which was widely decried as a sham after the main opposition party was barred from running.

Hun Manet, 45, was elected unanimously at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Heng Samrin, the lawmaker who chaired the meeting announced.

After the vote, Hun Manet told lawmakers: “Today is a historic day for Cambodia”.

Days after the July election, Hun Sen — one of the world’s longest-serving leaders — announced he was stepping down and handing power to Hun Manet after nearly four decades of iron-fisted rule.

The largely ceremonial Cambodian king convened parliament on Monday, paving the way for lawmakers to elect four-star general Hun Manet, as the country’s new leader on Tuesday.

Hun Manet said his government would prioritise boosting the economy, creating a “prosperous nation,” increasing livelihoods and climate change adaptation.

Hun Manet’s new government includes a number of his relatives and several children of Hun Sen’s allies in top jobs.

Hun Sen’s youngest son Hun Many will become the civil service minister and his nephew Neth Savoeun, currently the powerful national police chief, will be a deputy prime minister.

The sons of the current interior and defence ministers will take over their fathers’ posts, according to a draft list of the new cabinet members seen by AFP.

Having come to power in 1985, Hun Sen helped modernise a country devastated by civil war and genocide, although critics say his rule has also been marked by environmental destruction, entrenched graft and the elimination of nearly all political rivals.

The United States, United Nations and European Union have condemned last month’s polls as neither free nor fair.

Hun Manet rejected those allegations hailing the vote as a “transparent election”.

Despite being educated in Britain and the United States, Hun Manet has shown few signs he will follow a more liberal path than his father.

 

A member of the ruling party’s powerful permanent committee, he has been the Royal Cambodian Army’s commander since 2018.

Hun Manet has also met some world leaders, including President Xi Jinping of China, Cambodia’s main ally and a significant benefactor.

– ‘Father’s legacy’ –

Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia”, said little was known about how Hun Manet will rule.

“His public comments have offered a vague melange of management speak and promises to uphold his father’s legacy, in which it is very hard to determine any distinctive national vision,” Strangio told AFP.

Hun Manet’s decisions will be dictated by the political system, not the other way around, Strangio said.

Hun Sen is expected to become president of the Senate early next year and acting head of state when the king is overseas.

“I am not retiring from politics yet,” he said, urging the incoming government to maintain peace and security.

He has publicly announced that he would still dominate the country’s politics and serve in other positions until at least 2033.