Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is putting no time limit on his premiership. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has backed away from a previous promise, made as recently as late last year, that he will remain leader for the next 10 years. The region’s longest-serving leader now says he will remain in office as long as he wants.
Speaking at a press conference after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination on March 4, Hun Sen said: “Now I stop speaking of running as premier for 10 or 20 years. I will be prime minister until I want to stop.”
Speculation had intensified in recent months that his eldest son Hun Manith, a four-star general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, was being groomed to take over from his authoritarian father.
Sources close to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had also said that Minister for Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth was among the favorites for any eventual change in leadership.
Hun Sen, 68, who has been in office for 36 years, is the world's longest-serving prime minister.
Cambodia will hold commune/sangkat council elections on June 5 next year, with general elections to follow in July 2023.
The CPP won every seat contested at the 2018 ballot after the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which won almost half the popular vote five years earlier, was dissolved by the courts amid claims it was fomenting a “color revolution.”
Since then CNRP leader-in-exile Sam Rainsy has threatened to return and lead a widespread popular uprising designed to oust Hun Sen. Hundreds of CNRP supporters, including a Khmer Bible editor, were then rounded up and are currently before the courts in mass trials.
Earlier this week Sam Rainsy, who lives in France, and other exiled senior CNRP leaders were sentenced in absentia to more than 20 years behind bars, prompting an outcry among human rights groups and concerns among foreign embassies.
However, the government said their complaints were unacceptable.
“They are not permitted to provide support to groups of insurgent rebels. This is absolutely unacceptable and illegal interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs. A coup to depose our elected prime minister is just not acceptable,” government spokesperson Phay Siphan said.
Opposition groups are struggling to reform ahead of the polls.
They include the Cambodia Reform Party (CRP), Khmer Conservative Party (KCP) and the Cambodian National Love Party (CNLP). Some of their members are made up of former CNRP supporters who have deserted the opposition in exile.
Others include the Khmer Will Party (KWP), League for Democracy Party (LDP) and the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP), which contested the 2018 poll but failed to win a seat in the 125-seat National Assembly.
Hun Sen told the press conference that no one in the opposition parties was destined to become prime minister, saying it was like “the opposition keeps waiting for February 31 every year.”
He also said there would be no transfer of the premiership to anyone.