Sunday, June 4

Who is Hun Manet? Son of Prime Minister Anointed as Cambodia’s Next Leader | Cambodia

TO Ph.D. in economics, military leader, Bristol University graduate Hun Manet, the eldest son of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been confirmed as the next leader of the country’s dominant political party, which described him as a “candidate to prime minister [of] the future”.

At last week’s congress, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which holds all parliamentary seats, voted unanimously in favor of Hun Manet, 44, to succeed his father.

In 2017, Hun Sen dissolved the main opposition party amid allegations of a plot to overthrow the government, meaning that life under Hun Manet is almost inevitable. The burning question now among observers is whether he will follow the dictatorial path of his father.

Very little is known about Hun Manet, says Dr. Lee Morgenbesser, senior lecturer in the school of government and international relations at Griffith University in Australia.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen poses with his son Hun Manet during a ceremony at a military base in Phnom Pen.
(From left to right) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen with his son Hun Manet during a ceremony at a military base in Phnom Pen. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP / Getty Images

Growing up amid wealth and political celebrity, he shares few personal opinions on his own social media channels, instead posting photos of ceremonial events and of his wife and children. “To get to the top, it is beneficial for the children of dictators to hide their beliefs, intentions and vision,” says Morgenbesser.

Hun Manet, the eldest of Hun Sen’s six children, has been “groomed to succeed his father, who has ruled the country for more than three decades using a combination of corruption and repression,” he says.

In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, Cambodia scores just 21 out of 100 and is ranked 160 out of 180 countries.

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Hun Sen has a reputation for jailing political opponents and ending media criticism and civil disobedience. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report called his regime “abusive and authoritarian.”

But Kheang Un, a political science professor at Northern Illinois University, believes that Hun Manet himself is seen as a “clean politician” and well-liked. “Hun Manet is known to be well-mannered, competent, down-to-earth and friendly,” he says.

Emulating his father’s early days, he has thus far followed a military rather than a political path, graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, as well as New York University and the University of Bristol, earning his Ph.D. in economy before moving through the ranks to become lieutenant general. He has held numerous high-profile positions and is now Deputy Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Deputy Chief of Staff.

Military training and exposure to Western society put him in a strong position to navigate Cambodia in an era of tense geopolitical competition between China and the United States, the UN says, adding that his training in economics will also be an advantage.

Morgenbesser says that “while there will be a temptation to label Hun Manet as some kind of progressive or reformer, he has done nothing to deserve the benefit of the doubt.”

“He is simply the next dictator,” he says. “Since he returned from the United States… he has been busy cultivating support within the CPP, winning the backing of the security apparatus, building ties with the business community, and helping to eliminate political opposition. This should tell us everything we need to know. “

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Time may reveal yet more about Hun Manet. Hun Sen, 69, who has held the post since 1985, has said he will run in the 2023 election.

Hun Manet is a member of the permanent committee of the CPP and deputy director of the central youth wing of the party. He co-founded the NGO Samdech Techo Volunteer Youth Doctor Association together with his wife, Pich Chanmony, and also has good connections with Thailand after helping in a border confrontation in 2011, according to Paul Chambers, a professor at the Asean Center for Community Studies. at Naresuan University, Thailand.

“The overall impression of Hun Manet, however, is that he is quite young and his power emanates from the fact that he is the son of Hun Sen,” Chambers said. “Once Hun Sen himself leaves the scene, one wonders how much charisma Hun Manet himself would have to maintain the political supremacy of the Hun family.”

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