Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday marked 34 years in power by pledging to push for economic revival and vowing to not let anyone die of starvation so long as he stays in power.
Mr Hun Sen first took office on January 14, 1985. At 32-years-old, he became the world’s youngest Prime Minister at the time. He was unanimously elected by the National Assembly after serving as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to Prime Minister Chan Si.
Today, Mr Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving Prime Ministers, second only to President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has also been in power for about 34 years.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr Hun Sen has been credited with achieving economic growth and establishing peace after the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
In a speech during a ground-breaking ceremony of a road in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr Hun Sen reiterated the struggles he encountered to liberate the country and carry out reforms from the ashes of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime.
“In 1984, God tested my ability when I was acting Prime Minister,” he said. “There was a drought in one part of the country, which caused the rest of the country to be short on food.”
“I remember I told the National Assembly that we must not let anyone die of hunger,” Mr Hun Sen added. “This stance remains true until today. It was a hard time and I had nobody to teach me.”
He noted that since he’s taken power, Cambodia has experienced more than two decades of peace and stability, adding that he refused to step down as leader of the Kingdom due to the needs of his people.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, yesterday said Mr Hun Sen’s leadership helped bring major achievements to the Kingdom.
“I believe that most Cambodians call him a hero. He has been a very good leader to his people and government officials,” Mr Yeap said. “He brought peace and economic development. Under his control, Cambodia has also been a good friend to neighbouring countries and to the world.”
He noted that Mr Hun Sen has flexibility and leadership qualities.
“He is a strongman with excellent leadership. I bet no other CPP members can beat him,” Mr Yeap added. “He had what it takes to stay in power for another decade so that he can serve the nation. I believe he can still do it.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday issued a statement extending gratitude for Mr Hun Sen’s 34 years in power.
However, not everyone favours a leader staying in power for such a long time. Despite the achievements boasted by Mr Hun Sen himself and his party, many say that his time in power has brought corruption, human rights abuses and setbacks to democratic rights.
Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker, yesterday said the Kingdom’s records on democracy and human rights are still marred with problems.
“If we look on the other side of his achievements, I think that people will see existing problems such as poverty and economic risks,” Mr Chanrath said.
The CNRP, Mr Chanrath’s former party, was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 after its leader was accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
“To prove that he is a strongman, I think he should solve the current political crisis and restore the country’s democracy by releasing Kem Sokha and pave ways for opposition groups,” he added.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said Mr Hun Sen should do more for his people and ensure the country is moving on the right track.
“He should switch his focus to the general well-being of his people, and ensure them peace of mind and body by assisting and supporting them when in difficulty,” Mr Mong Hay said.
Last year, Mr Hun Sen said that he will lead the country for another decade in order to maintain stability in Cambodia after rumours surfaced that he would hand over power to one of his three sons.
Lieutenant General Hun Manet now serves as the army commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, while Mr Hun Sen’s second son Lieutenant General Hun Manith is the general director of the RCAF’s military intelligence department. Hun Many, Mr Hun Sen’s youngest son, is a lawmaker and the president of the Union of Youth Federation of Cambodia.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of election watchdog Nicfec, said that Mr Hun Sen should now consider who his potential successor will be.
“We all see the development during his 34-year leadership and we are grateful for this. He is getting old now and I think he should find some time to relax,” Mr Kuntheamy said. “There are a lot of potential in younger politicians who can be nurtured to handle his office.”
Mr Mong Hay believes that Mr Hun Sen has already chosen someone in mind to be his successor.
“He stays on to ensure that his chosen successor has secured enough of a power base to succeed him,” he said.