As the Kingdom looks back 45 years, while also gazing towards 2050, former Prime Minister Hun Sen, who remains president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), has offered several recommendations that should be implemented in 2024.

During the commemoration of the 45th Anniversary of the January 7, 1979 Victory over Genocide Day, held on Koh Pich in Phnom Penh on January 7, Hun Sen drew attention to several chronological events since 1970, when then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk was ousted in a coup backed by a “foreign power” that he said led to the loss of nearly one million lives.

Widespread conflict continued and was followed by the darkest period in Cambodian history, he added. From the start of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1975 until its fall in 1979, the oppressive regime tuned the country into a “prison without walls” with its infamous killing fields, which were filled with the blood and tears of the people. Ultimately, the Pol Pot genocidal regime was responsible for an additional three million deaths.

Hun Sen explained that the terrible tragedy of those years was ended by combatants of the Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation, with the help of Vietnamese troops, delivering a “second birthday” for all Cambodians.

The celebration was also attended by Prime Minister Hun Manet, whose image was featured on the CPP’s celebratory banners for the first time, along with Hun Sen and honorary party president Heng Samrin. Other leaders of the CPP and state institutions – along with numerous foreign diplomats – were also part of the 20,000 strong crowd.

Hun Sen, now also chairman of the Supreme Privy Council to the King, said that in the 45 years since victory day in 1979, Cambodia has changed remarkably, most noticeably in the 25 years since comprehensive peace was achieved through his win-win policy in 1998, with the eventual reintegration of the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers.

He added that although many accomplishments have been reached, Cambodia’s development goals do not end here, saying it has a long way to go towards building the country into one which is “advanced and civilised, ensuring that there will be no more national breakup, war or genocide”.

Hun Sen said the next five years will be critical ones, as the Kingdom lays the foundation for sustainable, inclusive and equitable development toward upper-middle-income status by 2030 and a high-income economy by 2050.

“Time has tested our will and ability. We will be able to achieve this excellent goal as long as we can maintain strong national unity and determined ownership of our country, along with the right leadership,” he said, placing his trust in the new generation to make sure the ambitious goal is accomplished.

“Cambodia has transformed itself from a country of prolonged conflict and savage killing into a beautiful land of peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, where the people are the owners of their own destiny,” he added.

Toward the future goals, he offered several recommendations that should be carried out in the coming years.

He said Cambodia must resolutely protect its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, along with peace, stability and public order. It must also ensure that all citizens have freedom under the constitution and laws.

The Kingdom’s Constitutional Monarchy, the throne and the King must be protected, while the Pentagonal Strategy Phase 1 must be implemented, in order to meet the expectations of the people and earn their trust.

He urged that macro-economic stability be maintained, while inclusive growth must also be ensured through the control of inflation and stable exchange rates, as well as sharp reforms. The livelihoods of the public should be guaranteed through social protection systems, especially for the poor and vulnerable, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Hun Sen also called for a successful, free and fair Senate election, which will take place on February 25.

“The government must continue to enforce foreign policies based on independence, international law, ensuring and promoting the tradition of good friendship, solidarity, and excellent cooperation with neighbouring countries, as well as those in the region and around the world. It should also continue to participate in the causes of peace and stability, while fighting against global challenges,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Manet also shared his view on the historical day.

“Forty-five years ago, all Cambodians, including young children, were forced to work. They were not only overworked, but had no holidays, not enough food, no hospitals, schools or pagodas, and no freedom,” he said, via social media.

“Since the day of national liberation … on January 7, 1979, the people have had full freedom and the country enjoys peace and development in all sectors. This is why the day is regarded as our second birthday,” he added.

A number of smaller political parties also issued statements to celebrate the anniversary.

“During this occasion, our party express our gratefulness to the heroism demonstrated by [Hun Sen] while fulfilling his historic mission to successfully liberate the country. He brought peace and national reconciliation, as well as the gradual development of the nation,” said the New Light Party in a statement.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, noted that January 7 has been interpreted differently by different people, depending on their political affiliations.

“For the last 45 years, the meaning of January 7, 1979 has been interpreted in different ways, based on each individual’s own political tendencies. But there is a fact that cannot be altered: This day was when the Cambodian people were rescued from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime,” he said.