The Geopolitics August 20, 2023 What Can We Expect From the New Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet? By Sam Rainsy
Cambodia will have a new prime minister on August 22 in the person of Hun Manet, who will replace his father Hun Sen. This change has been orchestrated by Hun Sen himself after his 38-year rule, matching by only two African dictators.
Hun Manet’s assumption of office holds mostly symbolic value, as no significant changes in the political landscape of Cambodia are anticipated. In reality, Hun Sen will continue to pull the strings as the head of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), a party of communist origin that has been in power since 1979. Little will truly change as long as the current system established by Hun Sen himself remains intact. Hun Manet will effectively be a captive of this system, which he must preserve under the watchful eye of his father.
Neo-Khmer Rouge Regime
Hun Sen’s regime can be characterized as a neo-Khmer Rouge regime, as it is based on violence and impunity, much like under Pol Pot. Hun Sen was a loyal military leader under Pol Pot from 1975 to 1977. Under Hun Sen, at every level of the state, many new Cambodian leaders after Pol Pot were recruited from former Khmer Rouge cadres, allowing for the maintenance of a police state to this day.
What Hun Sen primarily expects from his son, Hun Manet, is the assurance of continued impunity. It’s widely known that in Phnom Penh, the courts are under political control, and none of the numerous political crimes – resembling acts of state terrorism – which have been committed under Hun Sen have ever been subject to a serious investigation. Cambodia is a land of impunity where the worst murderers roam freely within the corridors of state.
A glimmer of hope for an end to this impunity recently emerged from Paris. On 30 December, 2021, a French investigating judge’s ordinance hinted that Hun Sen could be prosecuted in France once he loses his judicial immunity tied to his role as head of government. This would be in relation to the grenade attack in Phnom Penh on 30 March, 1997. As a French citizen, I had filed a complaint against Hun Sen in the Paris court for an assassination attempt against me that resulted in at least 16 deaths among my supporters on that day.
Hun Sen’s second objective in passing the power from father to son is the ability to continue to control Cambodia both economically and in patrimonial terms.
The Cambodian economy is largely controlled by the Hun Sen family and its allies, forming a political and financial elite which holds immense wealth amidst widespread poverty. Hun Sen perpetuated the Khmer Rouge mentality and culture of considering the nation’s wealth and state property as spoils of war to be used at the victors’ discretion.
In this patrimonial power perspective, Hun Sen publicly declared that he saw himself in the future as “not only the father but also the grandfather of prime ministers.” He must have had the North Korean lineage of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un in mind.
The replacement of Hun Sen by his son Hun Manet becomes almost comical when such succession extends not only to the Hun family but also to all families forming the ruling clan. In fact, practically all ministers in the current government led by Hun Sen will be replaced by their respective children in the upcoming government led by Hun Manet. This is a world-first that even North Korea had not dared to imagine.
What makes the creation of the Hun dynasty in Cambodia even more farcical is the “democratic” foundation that Hun Sen wanted to ensure for it. A two-penny farce that would be amusing if a country’s fate was not at stake.
Hun Sen wanted to take no risks over his son’s enthronement. On 23 July, he organized a sham election where his victory was 100% guaranteed. Just a few weeks before the voting day, he had arbitrarily removed the only opposition party that could have challenged him, the Candlelight Party (CP), which I founded 25 years ago.
This highly undemocratic and discriminatory measure provoked an outcry from the international community, which Hun Sen, in his determination to secure his son Hun Manet’s appointment as prime minister, utterly disregarded. But he won’t be able to ignore the backlash for long. Lack of legitimacy is the automatic result of elections without risk.
Lack of Legitimacy
This lack of legitimacy will remain a stain that forever marks the new government under Hun Manet.
Hun Manet himself has a lack of achievement for which Hun Sen cannot compensate. His personality seems rather dull compared to his father’s; he lacks charisma, eloquence and authority. Over the past twenty years spent alongside his father leading the country, particularly the military, he has never done or said anything that would suggest he possesses an independent personality. He has only continually praised his father without any critical thinking.
Despite being 45 years old, he has no known notable achievements or accomplishments, even though he had all the means to accomplish them. Just recently, when the time came to make him prime minister, slightly altering the initial timeline (see “What Lies Behind the Sudden Resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen?” in The Geopolitics on August 7, 2023), “achievements” were suddenly attributed to him, such as his “heroic behavior” during border incidents with Thailand and Laos 10 or 15 years ago and his “exemplary leadership” in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
These “achievements” largely rely on imagination, as some border incidents with neighboring countries were periodically manufactured by Hun Sen to boost his electoral campaigns, and the successes in fighting Covid-19 in Cambodia can raise skepticism (see “Cambodia is being turned into a political advert for Chinese vaccines” in The Geopolitics on November 16, 2021). Laos, which made little fuss about the pandemic, has fared better than Cambodia with fewer Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants.
Even the highly-touted admission of Hun Manet to the US Military Academy at West Point conceals a secret inadvertently revealed by Hun Sen. In 2021, the father published a lengthy letter from his son in which the latter clarified that there were two paths to admission at West Point – one for Americans and the other for foreigners – and that he (Hun Manet) was admitted through the second path only thanks to political connections provided by the Phnom Penh government.
Looking ahead, with Hun Manet as prime minister and Hun Sen continuing to set the government’s major political directions, no liberalization of the current regime should be expected. This regime is fundamentally built on repression and violence, which have ensnared those exercising power. In fact, violence confines those who employ it to stay in power more so than those who suffer it. Any liberalization by dictators who rely on violence can only lead to their downfall. The enduring North Korean model is evidence of this.
Original source: https://thegeopolitics.com/what-can-we-expect-from-the-new-cambodian-prime-minister-hun-manet
Today, the Commission for the Voting Rights of Cambodians in Overseas, we would like to express our opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is initiating a law banning non-voters, no right to stand for election and mandate voting as an obligation.
This mandatory election law proposal is mainly aimed at Cambodians who are working and living abroad; they are the main pillars of economic development, promotion of culture, investment, and experienced leadership, etc.
This law is an additional oppression to overseas Cambodians who do not have the right to vote from the locations or countries where they are residing, learning and working, after the law prohibits dual Cambodian citizens from standing for or participating in leading the top roles of the nation was amended.
We urge Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to reconsider while this law is hastily drafted, referring only to the interests of winning and losing political parties, and leaving the national institutions and the interests of the people as well as national unity as not a primary agenda.
– having regard to its previous resolutions on Cambodia,
– having regard to Rules 144(5) and 132(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas on 3 March 2023, following a trial deemed by UN experts to have ‘failed to meet the standard of either Cambodian or international human rights law’, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Kem Sokha to 27 years in jail, which he is temporarily allowed to serve under house arrest, and indefinitely suspended his political rights to vote and to stand for election;
B. whereas Kem Sokha the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president was arrested in 2017 over accusations of conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen and held in arbitrary pre-trial detention until his conditional release into house arrest on 10 September 2018;
C. whereas since the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the largest opposition party, the CNRP, the Cambodian Government has been cracking down on members of the political opposition by jailing and fining them, and forcing them into exile;
D. whereas Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power almost without interruption for 38 years and the ruling party holds absolute power over the state and legislative bodies;
E. whereas the government crackdown on independent media, civil society organisations and political opposition that began in 2017 has continued, including through sham mass trials, the persecution of activists such as Seng Theary and the leadership and members of the opposition Candlelight Party, the restriction of liberties and the closure on 13 February 2023 of VOD, one of Cambodia’s last independent media outlets;
1. Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Kem Sokha and all opposition officials and activists convicted or detained on politically motivated charges;
2. Urges the Cambodian authorities to ensure free and fair elections in July 2023, allowing all political parties to carry out equal, free and transparent electoral campaigns under a more inclusive and transparent national election committee; calls for the immediate reinstatement of the CNRP for participation in the 2023 elections;
3. Calls on the authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment, intimidation and politically motivated criminal charges against members of the opposition, trade unionists, human right defenders (HRDs), civil society and media actors and for the immediate reinstatement of VOD;
4. Calls for the coordinated use of available political avenues including the further suspension of Cambodia’s ‘Everything But Arms’ status if the 2023 elections deviate from international standards or violations of human rights continue;
5. Urges the Commission to define human rights benchmarks for its ongoing enhanced engagement with the Cambodian authorities, and to provide assistance to Cambodia’s civil society and HRDs;
6. Urges the Council to adopt targeted sanctions, under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, to hold accountable all persons responsible for serious human rights violations and the dissolution and subsequent repression of the Cambodian opposition;
7. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the VP/HR, the ASEAN Secretary-General and the Government, Prime Minister and National Assembly of Cambodia.
Nhim Sarom (Candlelight Party’s Facebook page)🔊 Listen to this
Regarding “Candlelight Commune Chief-Elect Arrested for 2002 Robbery Case,” it is a joke for the Kampong Thom Provincial Court to have handcuffed Nhim Sarom, Candlelight Party commune chief-elect of Chamna Loeu commune. The use of a court warrant dated 10 years ago is the mark of a Kangaroo Court that ignores due process and pursues a predetermined conclusion, or of double standards where rules and laws are unfairly applied in different ways to different people. Legally speaking, the court in Cambodia has been notoriously accumulating distrust among Cambodian citizens. Politically speaking, the election is just a theater as the voice of the voters has never been respected.
This arrest is another testament to the incapability of the court and law enforcement in Cambodia. With prejudice and political partisanship, opposition dissidents are victimized, and they are found to be the wrongdoers in most legal and political cases. Can you imagine a society where good people are forced to be bad, and bad people are transformed to be good?
President, Committee for Election Right of Overseas Cambodians
Chao Ratanak, Candlelight Party’s commune chief candidate in Poipet commune, stands next to her father, Chao Veasna, a former opposition councilor in the commune, outside her house on May 14, 2022. (Matt Surrusco/VOD)🔊 Listen to this
Reading the article “Election Committee Rejects Candlelight Complaint Due to Lack of Specifics” recalls to mind how for Cambodian voters back in the 1998 national election — after the coup d’etat in 1997 — the legacy of the professional election institution built by the UNTAC was demolished and a new National Election Committee rebuilt. And in 2017, when the Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved, the legacy of an NEC created by the spirit of “culture of dialogue” was also demolished.
The response of the local election committee in the latest case is not a surprise, as the professionalism of neutrality has not been embedded in their workmanship at all. If this local election committee was well-trained, comprehensive, professional, and fearless to perform their duty without reprisal, they would try to accommodate complaints filed by Chao Ratanak without creating any further obstruction. But their performance shows not only an incapability for professional conduct but also bias toward the ruling party without doubt.
Observing the leadership structure of the current NEC, regardless of the instalment of party activists, the bureaucratic hierarchy from the national level to provincial level and to local agents is not necessary at all, and this structure creates more avenues to favor the ruling party than to serve the interests of voters. The judicial system being used as a political tool for the ruling party also disincentivizes professional conduct for the NEC and its staff.
Since Cambodia has conducted elections according to the spirit of Paris Peace Agreements, only two elections have been regarded as credible and professional, i.e. 1993 and 2017. Hence, the political maturity of the Cambodian people and their dynamic activism have paved concrete hope for the betterment in the near future.
Sophoan Seng President, Committee for Election Right of Overseas Cambodians
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to Cambodian expatriates in Washington D.C. on May 11. (Hun Sen’s Facebook Page)
Regarding the news article by VOD, “Hun Sen Rules Out Postal Voting for Cambodia During His US Tour”, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments twist the reality of overseas voting for the public, as there are plenty of other overseas voting methods that the Committee for Election Right of Overseas Cambodians (CEROC) has advocated for.
We should learn from neighboring countries — Thailand, Philippines and Myanmar alike allow overseas voters to cast ballots in domestic elections, and they do not utilize a postal voting mechanism at all. They set up booths in overseas communities where eligible voters can cast ballots. Embassies have played vital roles to accommodate such facilities in foreign countries, regardless of whether the voters are migrant workers, students, soldiers on mission, government officials, or dual citizens.