Hun Many, Sar Sokha, Say Sam El, Dy Vichea, Dith Tina, Sok Sokan, Kim Rithy, Cheam Chansophoan: This was the dynasty that was meant to shake up the party; young men groomed by their powerful fathers to step in and bring a message of change.
Instead, every one of the eight scions listed on the ballot lost.
As the ruling Cambodian People’s Party regroups in the wake of Sunday’s election and considers the future, it would be wise to hone rather than abandon this new focus on youth, analysts said yesterday.
“I think that in this mandate, they will need to include capable youth or qualified young people in their system,” said political analyst Kem Ley. “This time, they realise that they are all old, almost all old; they need to hand it to the next generation.”
In many ways, these young, first-time candidates appeared to have been set up to fail. None were given a position higher than four on the list, while half of the group were listed as reserves.
Contrast that to the four provincial governors, all of them well into their 60s, who retired from their positions earlier this year. Listed no lower than third on the candidate rolls, three of them won seats.
“It’s a very aged government to begin with,” pointed out political scientist Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
“New blood,” he said, could be highly beneficial to changing the ruling party’s way of thinking.
Indeed, the group shows promise. They are highly educated, both here and abroad, and already hold impressive government positions. Many, 31, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son, holds degrees from top universities in the US and Australia. Sar Sokha, 34, the son of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, is Phnom Penh’s deputy police chief and studied abroad. So too did two-star general Dy Vichea, 32, who is the son-in-law of Hun Sen and son of the late, notorious National Police Chief Hok Lundy.
Whether it is through dynasties or through new members, the long-ruling party stands in need of young blood, but injecting that into the party is no easy task.
A victim of its own system, the CPP’s highly entrenched patronage networks have stymied development. For two decades, as the party has sought to tighten and cut down on factionalism, it has become ever more reliant on a handful of top leaders and their associates.
Such a system has made flexibility, up to the current moment, all but impossible.
But the preliminary results of Sunday’s election suggest the networks may be beginning to crumble.
It’s a reality the party may be considering how to address.
Kong Heang, former governor of Kampong Speu, told the Post yesterday that Many would almost certainly wind up with a seat – that of Senate First Vice-President Say Chhum, who won the first lawmaker position in the province. “Say Chhum will step down in order to continue to work at the Senate,” he said.
The party should continue looking forward, said Thayer, noting that many of the policies on which it had built support over the years had become irrelevant.
“They saved people from the Khmer Rouge, but the vast majority of the population was born after. There’s stability, but more and more people are affected by land disputes ... there have been been counterproductive impacts,” he said. “How do they redefine themselves? They can’t live in the past.”
Sokha, who failed to win a seat in Prey Veng despite having his praises publicly sung by none other than Hun Sen, said senior party leaders would be meeting next week to discuss just that.
“In one week, we will discuss who will enter the National Assembly and who will get other duties besides that,” he said. “Speaking as someone who didn’t win, of course we want more seats, but we accept it. It shows our doing. It’s like a stick that hit us and we have to be alerted.”