Cambodia‘s Prime Minister, Hun Sen is poised to extend his iron-fisted rule through another tightly controlled upcoming election lacking any substantial competition. Having been in power since 1985, only leaders of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea have held office longer than him. As Cambodia prepares for its seventh general election, critics express concerns about the lack of democracy and transparency, as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) suppresses opposition voices and prepares for a potential power transfer to Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet.
Hun Sen’s Transformation from Democracy to Autocracy
Cambodia, renowned for its Angkor temples, has a tumultuous history marked by the Khmer Rouge regime’s genocide. Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, assumed power almost four decades ago. While initial elections were competitive, the country has experienced a shift towards autocracy in recent years. Hun Sen curtailed political space, silenced dissent, and imprisoned critics, leading many to flee the country. His government also developed closer ties with China while rejecting Western criticism, particularly regarding Cambodia’s political opposition.
Challenges to the Upcoming Election’s Legitimacy
Political analysts argue that the upcoming election lacks legitimacy as meaningful opposition parties. Figures have been suppressed, imprisoned, or banned by the CPP. While the CPP points to the participation of 17 smaller parties to support its claim of being a multiparty democracy, rights groups and observers refute this, highlighting the absence of genuine competition and a free media environment.
Hun Manet’s Political Debut and Challenges Ahead
Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, is seen as the potential successor to his father’s rule. With an impressive overseas education and some popularity among younger Cambodians, Hun Manet will run for a parliamentary seat in the upcoming election. However, political watchers emphasize that he must establish his legitimacy independently from his father’s shadow and address challenges arising from his father’s legacy of corruption and nepotism. Foreign policy decisions will also test his ability to be taken seriously on the global stage.
Repeating a Suppressive Playbook and Calls for Boycott
In recent years, Cambodia’s political crackdown intensified following the 2013 elections, where the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) captured a significant share of the vote. However, Opposition leaders faced arrests, exile, and the CNRP was banned. The current election follows a similar playbook, with the Candlelight Party, an offshoot of the CNRP, also facing a ban. The government has targeted opposition members with arrests and harassment, sparking concerns about the lack of a democratic process.
Apathy and Fear Among Cambodian Voters
With limited political options, many Cambodians express apathy and fear surrounding the election. Some fear repercussions for not voting for the ruling CPP. Concerns over the privacy of the voting process have grown, leading to a sense of uncertainty among voters.
As Cambodia approaches its next general election, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s continued rule and suppression of opposition parties raise questions about the democratic legitimacy of the process. The prospect of a power transfer to Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, adds complexity to the political landscape. The absence of genuine competition and political freedoms have led critics to question the credibility of the upcoming election. With limited political options, many Cambodians are left grappling with apathy and apprehension about the future direction of their country.