Although Prime Minister Hun Sen has stated that he will be the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) candidate for the top office for at least another decade, his recent endorsement of his oldest son Hun Manet as his successor may indicate some flexibility on his part as to when he decides to retire given his age.
In the wake of the endorsement, several of the political parties competing with the CPP have made statements to the effect that they are preparing candidates to run against Manet.
Hun Sen fuelled the speculation in a speech on December 6, when he said there were four candidates from the CPP who would be suitable for the office of prime minister. He then publicly endorsed Manet while neglecting to name the other three CPP candidates.
The prime minister emphasised that he will be the CPP’s candidate for the office with no plans to retire until after the 2028 election – if his health is good and no misfortune befalls him.
The Post reached out to several parties to see if they have chosen a candidate or list of potential candidates for future elections to run against Manet, whose father’s imprimatur and his own popularity in the party and among the citizenry make him the most likely CPP pick.
Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) spokesperson Loek Sothea said on December 7 that Hun Sen’s announcement was a good thing because it established a clear successor for the CPP, which would help to prevent any unrest, civil disorder or threats to the nation’s security should something like an unexpected health emergency happen with the prime minister.
“Making his preference clear is a wise political strategy, but choosing who will be the candidate is another matter. Whether the candidate he prefers is his son or his nephew or whoever doesn’t matter that much because the CPP party members have a right to choose a different candidate should there be an internal disagreement in their party,” he said.
As for the GDP, he said the party has not talked about candidates for prime minister yet as it is still too early. He said the GDP’s current mission is to train its party members to be good leaders and continue to grow their membership.
Kong Korm, an adviser to the Khmer Will Party (KWP), told The Post on December 7 that he congratulates Hun Sen on his declaration of support for Manet as the CPP’s future candidate.
“As you know, many of the older politicians are hostile to each other and cannot stand each other and cannot be united. Turning the page and getting a fresh start with younger politicians will help Cambodia leave the past behind.
“We should let our highly-educated young people who have come of age in a country that is democratic and increasingly prosperous lead us into the future. That would be a good thing,” he said.
Korm added that the KWP plans to nominate his son Kong Monica – who already serves as the party’s leader – as their candidate for prime minister. He will run on a platform that promises a fresh new era for politics in Cambodia in the next election for the 2023 to 2028 term.
“Starting a new page in our history and opening up opportunities for young Cambodian politicians who have experience studying abroad in major or developed countries and who have a high level of education and a sophisticated modern outlook that will allow them to guide Cambodia to become fiercely competitive in all sectors can’t happen soon enough,” he said.
Mam Sonando, president of the Beehive Social Democratic Party, said that among his own party’s ranks, he did not see any clear candidates who are qualified enough to run for prime minister, so if the election were today he said he would support Manet.
“I have no one who can compete with Manet and I doubt I will find anyone more capable than him, at least for now,” he said.
Yong Pov, a professor of political science at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, is of the view that the Kingdom could be approaching a turning point politically and this may be an early signal that the time is coming for Cambodia’s older generation of party leaders to pass the torch to the next generation.
He added that it would almost be negligent and dangerous for Hun Sen and the CPP to forego naming any successor because it could result in social unrest given Cambodia’s history.
Pov said there is nothing wrong with the arrangement, which sometimes occurs in other countries as well.
“The younger generation has knowledge from their formal educations, but they still need to rely on the experiences of the older generation. We should be building a culture that takes turns, both politically and technically, that is something I support.
“The next generation has more in-depth learning and a better understanding of the functioning of a democratic society than the previous generation, which has a more cohesive political mentality,” he said.