Son of Cambodian leader tipped as successor gets promotion

Photo by AP/Heng Sinith

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen has appointed his eldest son to head his ruling party’s youth wing, an appointment further fueling speculation that he is being groomed to succeed his father as the Southeast Asian country’s leader.

Hun Sen, in his position as president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, issued a letter late Monday promoting his son Hun Manet from the position of vice chairman of the party’s youth wing to be its chairman.

The 42-year-old Lt. Gen. Hun Manet, a graduate of West Point, holds several senior posts in Cambodia’s military. He is deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, commander of the army, a deputy commander of his father’s elite bodyguard unit and chief of the country’s counterterrorism force.

Hun Manet was boosted in 2018 from the Cambodia People’s Party’s 865-member Central Committee to its 37-member Standing Committee, the country’s key decision-making body, making him a de facto member of his father’s political inner circle.

Hun Sen, who has been head of government for 35 years, has often mentioned Hun Manet as his potential successor, though he has also vowed to stay in office until 2028. Younger son Hun Manit also holds important military posts, while youngest son Hun Many — also considered a possible successor to his 66-year-old father — is a National Assembly member.

Lao Monghay, an independent Cambodian political analyst, compared the succession scenario to the story of Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate, a hereditary military regime that ruled the country for 2 1/2 centuries with the army commander holding power. The shogunate was overthrown and abolished in 1868, when power was restored to the emperor.

Lao Monghay described Hun Manet’s promotion as an indication that a military regime is being created in Cambodia and that “a Cambodian Shogunate is being established to rule.” Cambodia is nominally an electoral democracy, but Hun Sen tolerates little dissent and the sole credible opposition party was dissolved by the courts ahead of the 2018 general election.