Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to hand power over to his son within months after cementing another landslide victory in the country’s general election over the weekend.
According to various media reports, the 70-year-old – who is Asia’s longest-serving leader with 38 years and counting in the top job – is preparing to hand the leadership of his Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to 45-year-old son Hun Manet, currently commander of the Royal Cambodian Army.
Hun Sen will certainly pass the baton during this new five-year term but most likely within months, those reports claim.
However, there remains significant fallout from the election amid claims it was not conducted in a free and fair manner. Although the CPP was one of 18 political parties to contest the election, the only party seen as a genuine challenger to its power, the Candelight Party, was disqualified in May due to a “registration technicality”.
Critics have described the election process as the least free and democratic yet, with the leaders of some opposition parties publicly arrested in recent weeks and a number of media outlets shut down and their websites blocked.
“Authorities in Cambodia have spent the past five years picking apart what’s left of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Amnesty International’s Montse Ferrer. “Many people feel that they are being forced to participate in this election despite their party of choice not being on the ballot.”
With Western nations refusing to send observers as a result, Sunday’s election was instead overseen by officials from Russia, China and Guinea-Bissau.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan claimed victory for the party shortly after the polls closed, stating, “We’ve won a landslide victory but so far there is no clear figures [on votes or seats won] yet.”
It is expected that Hun Manet will win a seat as part of his ascension to power, with experts stating they do not expect any major shift in party policy under his rule.
“I don’t think anyone expects Hun Sen to sort of disappear once Hun Manet is prime minister,” said Astrid Norén-Nilsson, a Cambodia expert at Sweden’s Lund University, in comments made to Al Jazeera.
“I think they will probably be working closely together and I don’t think that there is a big difference in their political outlook, including foreign policy.”
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier in the Cambodia Civil War, first took power in 1985 as Premier of the National Assembly. He was joint Prime Minister for four years between 1993 and 1997 following a hung parliament in the United Nations-backed elections of 1993 but eventually overthrew his fellow leader, with the CPP assuming full control and never looking back since.