Hun Sen’s son chosen as Cambodia’s new prime minister

Hun Manet defended last month’s tightly controlled election in a speech to the National Assembly.
By RFA Khmer
2023.08.22
Hun Sen’s son chosen as Cambodia’s new prime minister Hun Manet gestures as he registers at the National Assembly before parliament’s vote to confirm him as Cambodia’s next prime minister, in Phnom Penh, on Aug. 22, 2023.
Credit: Cindy Liu/Reuters

Cambodia’s newly sworn-in National Assembly voted to make Hun Manet the country’s prime minister on Tuesday, ending his father’s long reign at the top of the government and ushering in a new generation of leaders from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Hun Manet, 45, spoke to lawmakers after the vote. He thanked his father Hun Sen for clearing the way for him and also attacked opposition parties and other dissidents. 

“The election results reflect a strong denial from the voters against those unethical groups that  are convincing Cambodians to walk away from democracy and the rule of law, and to incite people to fall into their ambitions that are vicious and dangerous to the country,” he said. 

Hun Sen was seen wiping away tears after the vote. After ruling the country since 1985, the 71-year-old announced just three days after the July 23 election that he would resign as prime minister and would hand over the prime minister role to his eldest son.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen was officially appointed to his new roles as president of the Senate and the Supreme Privy Council to King Norodom Sihamoni. 

He will also retain power behind the scenes as president of the CPP, which overwhelmingly won last month’s elections – in no small part because authorities kept the main opposition Candlelight Party from participating on a technicality.

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet [center] and newly elected members of parliament raise their hands to vote during a parliamentary meeting at the National Assembly building, Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: AFP/Cambodia National Assembly

‘Still the decision-maker’

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy told Radio Free Asia that Hun Manet’s ascension represented only symbolic change.

“Hun Sen is still the decision-maker,” he said. “He will continue to protect the system. His son takes the position to make his government look good.”

The new Assembly also voted on Monday for a new cabinet, which includes 10 deputy prime ministers, 21 senior ministers and 30 ministers. 

Many of the new ministers are the adult children and relatives of the outgoing generation of government officials “who established the corrupt system,” Sam Rainsy said.

“Hun Sen is buying people to allow their children to take their fathers’ positions to secure his impunity,” he said.

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Hun Sen reacts while speaking at a news conference at the National Assembly after a vote to confirm his son, Hun Manet, as Cambodia’s prime minister in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Aug. 22, 2023. Credit: Cindy Liu/Reuters

‘They send people to attack me’

Last month’s election was condemned by the United States, France, Australia and others as neither free nor fair because of the exclusion of the Candlelight Party, as well as for efforts to neutralize the political opposition through threats, arrests and other means. 

In the run-up to the election, dozens of opposition activists were persuaded to publicly switch their allegiance to the CPP. 

But one activist who refused, and is now seeking asylum in Thailand, said that three men struck him in the face and tried to drag him into a car this week. Phorn Channa told RFA that he escaped with help from a bystander. 

“I got off my motorbike and was attacked,” he said. “I fled to a house for help but people shouted so the suspect fled.”

He said that Heng Suor – now the newly appointed minister of Labor – had previously tried to convince him to join the CPP. He said he declined because he believed that only an opposition party could bring democracy to Cambodia and respect for human rights.

“I thought when I arrived in Thailand I would be safe, but it is not safe,” he said. “They send people to attack me. I am very concerned. This shows that the Cambodian government is brutal. They are trying to harm democrats wherever we go.”

RFA couldn’t reach Heng Suor for comment on Tuesday. 

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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