During a rare media interview on Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son offered a roundabout denial of his political ambitions while lauding his father’s track record, though independent observers yesterday questioned those alleged achievements.
Speaking to Australia’s ABC News, Hun Manet refused to be drawn on repeated probes about his desire to succeed his father as prime minister.
“The answer is I don’t know,” he told ABC News. “If the Cambodian people decide, then that’s their wish.”
When asked if he was being groomed for the role, as has been widely suggested by political observers over recent years, Hun Manet offered a pointed denial.
“No, actually our father has stated many times that he doesn't want any of his children to follow [him] in politics,” he said.
But when questioned on the corruption that plagues the current government and repression it has regularly resorted to, Hun Manet was more forthcoming.
“Please name a country in this world that doesn’t have corruption,” he said, after suggesting his father was responsible for establishing “peace and prosperity” and “all the liberties” and “freedom of expression” he said Cambodian people currently enjoy.
Meanwhile, in a statement echoing recent remarks by his father, Manet, a lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said “peace, stability and security” should be preserved “at any cost”.
According to political analyst Ou Virak, that message ties in closely with recent calls from Hun Sen for security forces to quash any so-called “colour revolutions” that might threaten his government, and the premier’s frequent warnings of a civil war should the opposition win power.
“[The preservation of stability and security] has always been a justification for the government in its actions,” said Virak. “So it may be they are preparing for anti-democratic measures once this government loses public support.”
According to Virak, Manet’s interview would have been carefully planned and was likely intended to bolster both the prime minister’s standing among younger voters and Hun Manet’s profile, given the probability he will make a bid for power in the future.
“Hun Manet doesn’t give this kind of interview without really thinking it through,” he explained.
“I don’t think he was surprised [by any of the questions].”
Other statements made by Manet drew criticism yesterday from Transparency International Cambodia’s executive director Preap Kol, who suggested not enough is being done by the government to address “endemic and systematic” corruption in the country.
“The effectiveness of the fight against corruption remains limited and has fallen far below the people’s expectations,” he said. “There is an urgent need to undertake a robust and holistic approach to tackling corruption.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch’s Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson lambasted Manet’s suggestion his father should be praised for introducing basic rights at a time when the government is pushing through a host of legislation widely criticised for being anti-democratic, including the recently passed Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO).
“If anything, civil and political rights, including basic freedoms to speak out and protest, are facing serious challenges – and when LANGO kicks in, it’s likely civil society will face an onslaught of government repression and control,” he said.