In a speech to garment workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen repeated his pledge to serve “not less than” 10 more years, while implying his rule over the Kingdom would extend even beyond that.
“I have already declared that I will continue to be the prime minister not less than 10 years. According to the calculation for the two mandates, in 2028 I will retire,” he said, before immediately noting, “it could be more”.
“The goal is to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030. By then I could still be capable,” he said.
The premier went on to thank his audience for wishing him happiness and longevity, but said rather than wishes, they should give him their votes.
“No need to wish. What is the best thing to do? Vote for the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] and help Hun Sen stay with the people,” he said.
The premier reminded his audience that development is a product of “political stability” and claimed that to change course now would be to abandon the progress the country has made.
The chances of any change through the ballot box were virtually extinguished when the Cambodia National Rescue Party was forcibly dissolved in November, with some observers claiming that the country has effectively become a one-party state, though a smattering of small parties with little support have pledged to compete in the elections.
Jonathan Sutton, a researcher on Southeast Asian government repression at the University of Otago, said it was unlikely Hun Sen would ever step down voluntarily.
“Historically, dictators who have consolidated personal power in the way that Hun Sen has have very rarely stepped down . . . willingly,” he said via email, explaining most either die in office or are forcibly removed.
“The big problem for them is once you’ve stepped down and lost that access to power, how do you continue to protect yourself and maintain your interests?” he continued.
Sutton noted that signs point to the premier’s son Hun Manet being “groomed” as his successor – with Hun Sen likely still in the process of “building . . . support throughout the government and security forces” for Manet’s future takeover.
Also during his speech, Hun Sen turned his attention to CNRP co-founder and rival Sam Rainsy, who recently demanded the premier leave office.
“I was elected based on the Constitution and I want to send this message to you. Me or you, if we were elected via the Constitution, we need to go down via the Constitution,” he said.
Rainsy maintained yesterday it was Hun Sen who has ignored the constitutional requirements for leadership to be selected through elections by declaring his steadfast intentions to stay in power.
“Who is in power and for how long must depend on the will of the people as expressed through democratic elections. Hun Sen seems to ignore these considerations when announcing his plan for the future,” he said via email.