Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended his ruling party’s decision to nominate his son and children of other party officials to run in upcoming national elections, rejecting suggestions he is laying the foundation for a dynasty.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said that critics have misunderstood the nomination of family members of officials of Cambodian People’s Party to run for parliamentary seats as an attempt to cement a succession.
“When the CPP made its candidate lists, they were leaked to the media and some people mistook it as creating a dynasty,” Hun Sen said, adding that critics were only paying attention to a few of the nominations.
Opposition groups have said that Hun Sen, one of the longest-serving prime ministers in the world, is paving the way for one of his children to succeed him.
A senior CPP member confirmed last month that Hun Sen's youngest son, 30-year-old Hun Many, will run for parliament in the July general election, along with his son-in-law, Dy Vichea, a senior police officer in the Interior Ministry.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Hun Sen's eldest son Hun Manet, 35, the chief of the ministry of defense's anti-terrorism unit as well as the deputy chief of Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit, and his third son, Hun Manith, 31, an army colonel and deputy head of a powerful military intelligence unit, will also run in the polls.
The candidacies raised speculation that Hun Sen is setting the stage for his children to succeed him and establish a political dynasty.
Hun Sen said that the CPP made its nominations based on qualifications of the candidates.
“We don't just make the appointment, they must be qualified," he said, adding that it is important that young people run for office in order to replace aging politicians.
"No one starts their work when they are old.”
But speaking about what Cambodia’s voters want from their leaders, he added that his party has promised stability and that a change in government could “lead the people to misery.”
"They [the people of Cambodia] have been through many regimes. They want to know if they can rely on their direction with us or not. We have experienced changing regimes that lead to war across Cambodia."
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy
Hun Sen’s comments came as the opposition coalition National Rescue Party formally named its exiled chief Sam Rainsy as its choice to become prime minister if the party wins the elections.
The government has threatened to jail Sam Rainsy if he returns to Cambodia from France, where he is living in exile after being convicted of offenses linked to a protest over border demarcation with Vietnam in a case he says is politically motivated. He faces 12 years in prison.
But Sam Rainsy is confident of returning to participate in the July elections, saying international pressure on Hun Sen over the vote's legitimacy if he cannot stand in elections could convince the authorities to allow him back to the country.
The National Rescue Party also announced on Thursday that it has nominated Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha to be its National Assembly President if the party wins in the polls.
Sam Rainsy said that he believes that he will be able to return to Cambodia due to mounting international pressure on the Cambodian government.
"It is obvious [that I will be able to return], and there are a lot of positive signs,” he said from Singapore, where he was leading a meeting between the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party that had joined forces to form the National Rescue Party.
“Whenever I am traveling somewhere, the country’s leaders warn Hun Sen's government that if the election goes ahead without Sam Rainsy, those countries would not recognize the election results and the new government," he said.
The U.S. and other foreign governments have said they are disappointed by Cambodia’s National Election Committee’s disqualification of Sam Rainsy based on a criminal conviction that “credible observers” say was politically motivated.
Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Thursday that the government will not request Sam Rainsy’s extradition and will not arrest him as long as he stays out of Cambodia.
The National Rescue Party will hold its first-ever congress on April 7 and is expected to endorse Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha as its top two leaders.
The CPP will hold its party congress from March 16 to 17 to confirm Hun Sen as prime minister if the party retains power, Hun Sen announced Thursday.
Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.