Partyforumseasia: The recent accession of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the presidency of the Philippines, 36 years after his father was ousted, did not come as a surprise to many in the country and to their friends abroad. It had been prepared since the return of the clan from exile in 1991, and it had been planned with political skills and lots of money, obviously remaining from the billions plundered by the late dictator.
Another dynastic succession is in the making, so far without much attention from the international media. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is in power for 37 years by now, has been grooming his son Hun Manet for the succession for many years already. The 44-year-old is the eldest son and lieutenant general as well as commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces since 2018. Western educated at Westpoint and Bristol University, he is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the party’s top decision-making body, and the head of its youth wing. Already in December 2021, the Central Committee of the CPP has unanimously voted for Hun Manet to be the candidate for the next prime minister. The succession is somewhat on the backburner, though, since his father Hun Sen wants to run for another term in the 2023 election and let his son take over the chairmanship of the party first.
Even though most Cambodians have got used to the idea of dynastic succession, it did not come as a surprise that senior opposition leader Sam Rainsy criticised it from his exile in France immediately after the Central Committee decision as “clan-based succession” with the danger that other CPP leaders would follow suit with their own children.
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. The somewhat suspicious smoke is that on 30 May, the CPP spokesman Sok Eysan felt it necessary to defend the succession decision as democratic and the good right of the party. He added that successions in other countries have not been uncommon as well, the Bush father and son in the USA, the Prime Minister of Japan, Nobusuke Kishi, and his grandson Shinzo Abe in Japan, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore. Prime Minister Hun Sen himself spoke about the career of his son in the Nikkei Future of Asia Conference two weeks ago. The Khmer Times (31 May) quotes him as saying to journalists: “There is nothing illegal because I taught my children not to become thieves. Who does not want to see their children succeed, get rich and want them to become a country leader?” The three words, thieves and get rich, especially in the regional context, sound somewhat bizarre, since the Hun family is well known for a number of successful investments.
So, why did they feel compelled to comment just now? The answer is simple, on 5 June there will be communal elections and the CPP is probably not too sure that it will have a clean sweep, despite its control of Cambodia’s 1,652 communes, which was well engineered. In the 2017 elections, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had won 40 per cent of the communes, and it took a Supreme Court mandated dissolution of the party to regain control and take over all the mandates. What has developed during the last six months is a rebirth of the opposition under the name of Candlelight Party with many members and leaders from the former CNRP. The burning candle was already the logo when Sam Rainsy founded the Khmer Nation Party in 1995, which was renamed as Sam Rainsy Party three years later, and the candle was used as well after the merger with the Human Rights Party as CNRP. Obviously, the reborn opposition has attracted young and low-income voters with a balanced social program and promises to protect Cambodians against forced evictions at the hands of real estate, mining, or agricultural corporations. This is a real fear of many Cambodians and it was the special concern of the Human Rights Party and its former chairman Kem Sokha, who is still being silenced by a prolonged lawsuit for alleged treason and attempts to topple the government. Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, is not too happy with the Candlelight Party, saying that it plays into the hands of the CPP. The results of the election next week will show how strong the opposition party really is.