PRIME Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Wednesday that he would step down peacefully if he were to lose the 2013 election, conceding that he cannot rule the country forever.
During remarks delivered to delegates of the Sixth Asia Economic Forum in Phnom Penh, the premier also said he would refrain from causing disturbances for any potential new leader.
“In the year 2013, if people do not vote for [me], I only have one choice: I must step down,” he said.
“And at that time, the winner will not have to worry about me going to the Council of Ministers. I will sign over everything to a new leader.”
Hun Sen went on to address criticisms from opposition politicians that his government has at times appeared to be more totalitarian than democratic, emphasising that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had been democratically elected.
His remarks drew a mixed response from opposition lawmakers.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said Hun Sen’s pledge to step aside in the event of an electoral defeat was insignificant because he had no choice in the matter.
Hun Sen “does not need to call on the Council of Ministers, because when a new prime minister steps into power. They arrange their Council of Ministers, and if anyone refuses to step down, they are breaking the law,” he said.
In the other opposition camp, Human Rights Party spokesman Yem Ponharith said he welcomed Hun Sen’s comments and expressed confidence that they were sincere.
“I am not fearful [of Hun Sen]. It is normal for leaders in democratic countries to change. I do not believe that there will be a problem when the head of the government steps down from office,” he said.
Ou Virak, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Hun Sen likely made the comments because he thinks he will win the next election anyway and wanted to quash criticisms.
“Firstly, he still thinks that he will remain in power and win the 2013 election, and secondly, he is responding to his critics,” he said.
Hun Sen, who is 58, also remarked at one point during his hourlong speech that he could potentially stay in power until he turned 80.