Remarkable Autocrats in Southeast Asia: Hun Sen

Hun Sen before and after 36 years in power

Partyforumseasia: In their bestseller “The 48 Laws of Power”, published in 2000, the authors Robert Greene and Joost Elffers take up an old recommendation for power holders: Be unpredictable! With 36 years in power, Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving prime minister and probably does not need advice how to stay in power. He may need some coaching, though, on how to find the right moment to step down, but the 68-year-old does not seem to be tired of his job at all. After declaring until recently that he might retire after the 2028 general election, he used the occasion of his vaccination against Covid last week to show his unpredictability again:

“I will stop making announcements about stepping down in ten or twenty years. I will rule until a point that I feel I no longer want to rule.”

To continue the confusion game, Hun Sen said last December that Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth was a likely successor. Nevertheless, everybody in Cambodia believes that Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, is carefully groomed as the heir apparent. Four-star general Hun Manet, 43, is already the commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and also a member of the CCP’s permanent committee as well as leader of its youth wing. 

And before anybody forgets: Hun Sen is also a master in destroying or eliminating his enemies and challengers. Since the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) emerged as an opposition capable of winning a national election, especially its most popular leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had to pay the price. Kem Sokha is still awaiting his final judgement, though getting some relaxation from his long imprisonment and house arrest, and Sam Rainsy, who lives already in exile to avoid detention for several dubious convictions, has just been slapped with a 25-year prison sentence last week.

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