Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on January 9 that he won't step down from his position
until he is 90 years old.
Already having ruled Cambodia for 28 years, the pledge would give Hun Sen, 54, another
36 years in power for a potential total of 64.
"If people love to vote for me I will still lead this country, if people will
not vote for me I will stop," Hun Sen said.
If he did hold his post until 2041 it would be a world record. Presently, the longest-ruling
head of government is Cuba's Fidel Castro with 48 years.
" Wanting to be Prime Minister until you are 90 is too much of a responsibility,"
said Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay. "We can look at Fidel Castro
in Cuba as a good example. Their country has a lot of difficulties. Fidel Castro
is old and often sick, so he does not think much about the country, he thinks only
of his position because he is afraid of someone taking his position.
"I hope that he will change his mind and not take the example of Fidel Castro.
Rather, I hope he takes the example of countries that carry out free and fair democracy.
He has to offer a chance to the next generation who are knowledgeable and strong."
If Hun Sen were to retain power for such an extended period due to his popularity
alone, this might be acceptable, Chhay said.
"But Hun Sen does not have much popularity; he depends on the institutions that
he controls," he said. "Even if citizens do not support him he still wins
Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information and government spokesperson, said it was
up to Hun Sen himself, and his party the CPP, to decide when or if he would step
"No one can advise him [Hun Sen] that he should stop being Prime Minister,"
he said. "If he wants to stop, he will stop."
Kanharith said the CPP supported Hun Sen because of his continuing appeal at the
"The CPP's members know who is popular and who can lead [the party and the country],"
he said. "The most important thing is whether he is still leading the country
well or not. If he remains a good leader he must continue being Prime Minister."
But Mak Sarath, program coordinator of the Youth Council of Cambodia, said that many
of Cambodia's young people could soon be capable of leading the country.
"Many young people have a good idea in leading the country," he said. "Many
young people are training to be leaders in the future."
If Hun Sen wishes to retain power in Cambodia, he would be unwise to ignore the country's
younger generation, Sarath said.
"Political parties should pay attention to young people because they are a [large
percentage] of voters," he said. "Millions of young people vote [and] what
they want is a job market.... they support any political party that can provide jobs
for young people."
That the CPP and Hun Sen have been in power for so long may not be entirely due to
the level of popular support they receive, Sarath said.
"The political parties are not equal," he said. "Most of the electronic
or printed media is controlled by the government."
Moreover, the major concerns of Cambodia's younger generation seem to be ignored
by the ruling party, Sarath said.
"The biggest concern of the youth is corruption, and we have not seen the government's
commitment to combat this issue," he said. "The job market and the quality
of education is still limited."
Older voters interviewed by the Post cited as their primary concern the quality of
welfare services a Prime Minister would provide, not the length of time spent in
But they were skeptical about the possibility of change, saying the tier of government
with which they had most contact - local authorities - displayed a manifest uninterest
in their wellbeing and they did not expect that to change.
"People follow any leader who is a good one who builds roads for their citizens,"
Roeun Ro, 40, a villager coming from Phnom Preuk district in Battambang province,
said. "But in my village in Phnom Preuk district, they have no road to transport
crops, especially when it rains and the local authorities only think of their friends
and their families benefit."
Similarly, Mann Rorn, 68, from Chum Kiri, Kampot, said that in her district the local
authorities did not do anything for their constituents, even old, handicapped people.
"The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer," she said.
"If I do not farm I will have no food to eat. I never get anything from the
local authorities, [money and other presents] just arrive at the district and communes."