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PM marks 36 years in power with both praise and criticism

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his ballot in July 2018‘s national election. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday cemented his legacy as the current longest-serving Prime Minister in world history, after marking 36 years of ruling Cambodia, an achievement which has gained both praise and criticism.

In a post on his official Facebook page yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said he was the youngest Premier in the world when he was first elected in 1985, adding that he gained the “most love and support” from the people.

“For the past 36 years, Cambodia has experienced countless obstacles, but the smart and experienced Cambodian leader has led the country toward development and progress in all areas with a good image on the international stage,” the message added.

Mr Hun Sen became Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, then served as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister from 1981 to 1985.

He first took office as Prime Minister on January 14, 1985, after he was unanimously elected by the National Assembly to succeed Chan Sy, who died in office in December 1984.

Mr Hun Sen became the world’s youngest Prime Minister at the time, at age 32. He also held the position of Foreign Minister until 1991.

Today, he is the world’s longest-serving Prime Minister and the fifth current longest-ruling non-royal national leader in the world.

Mr Hun Sen at the end of December reaffirmed his intention to retire from his premiership at the age 78. He is 68-years-old now.

In mid-December, he made a rare revelation that one of the preferred successors could be Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, who is also the Minister of Economy and Finance.

Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday noted the four major achievements Mr Hun Sen has made for the nation and the Cambodian people, including liberating Cambodians from the “killing fields” of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, which provided a “second birth” for millions of Cambodians born before January 7, 1979.

“[Mr Hun Sen] brought complete peace to Cambodia through his Win-Win Policy and has maintained political stability, national unity as well as the progress of multi-party liberal democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

Phea said that Mr Hun Sen has brought back “national prestige” on the international stage and Cambodia has been playing an increasingly important role in regional and international affairs.

“Through these achievements, Samdech well deserves to be recorded by historians as a ‘national hero’, it’s a historical fact,” he added.

However, Phea said Mr Hun Sen could be considered an “authoritarian leader’’ by some “western glances” for his long-serving premiership.

“Opposition groups, as well as some anti-CPP  (Cambodian People’s Party)factions and civil society organisations, have used Samdech’s longest-serving stay in power to attack him and his party,” he said. “Some of his subordinates might break his trust and confidence by doing something that hurts the people and then they hide the facts from him.”

Mr Hun Sen and his ruling CPP have been criticised by the west for alleged human rights violations, alleged undermining of democracy through suppressing opponents including the dissolution of the main opposition party by the Supreme Court in 2017.

Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special advisor for international affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said via email yesterday that Mr Hun Sen has had both achievements and challenges.

“(Mr) Hun Sen’s period in power in Cambodia can be cheered and criticised. It can be cheered first for ending the chaos of the 1990s in which a civil war continued to rage, with armed Khmer Rouge soldiers still fighting against the state. It can also be cheered because Hun Sen brought greater prosperity to Cambodia,” he said.

“But it can be criticised  because (Mr) Hun Sen in the  last couple of years has  brought dependency on China  to Cambodia.

However, Phea said Mr Hun Sen’s longest-serving premiership has been possible, not because he has hijacked power, but because the CPP and the Cambodian people have given him trust and confidence and have voted him Premier in a democratic manner every five years since 1993.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday praised the achievements of Mr Hun Sen, from the overthrowing of the Khmer Rouge regime to developments in the present day.

“He was the initiator of national unity with the other Cambodian conflict parties, leading to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23, 1991,” he said. “He also participated in the first election, although organised by Untac (the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia), as the local authority participated in the successful election process.”

The first national election was held in May 1993 and it resulted in Funcinpec winning 58 out of 120 National Assembly seats, while the CPP received 51. The rest of the seats went to the Buddhist Liberal Democratic and Molinaka parties.

Despite losing the first election, Mr Hun Sen became “second prime minister” while Prince Norodom Ranariddh was first prime minister. Prince Ranariddh was ousted from power after fighting between forces loyal to him and Mr Hun Sen in 1997.

Eysan said under Mr Hun Sen’s leadership, Cambodia has enjoyed peace through his Win-Win Policy, resulting in Khmer Rouge forces integrating with the government in 1998.

He said the political situation since the second election in 1998, up until the election in 2013 was “not smooth” due to protest from the opposition party led by Sam Rainsy.

“Despite there having been many mass demonstrations in the past, the government has still managed the situation well,” he said.

However, Eysan said western countries have alleged that Cambodia, under Mr Hun Sen’s leadership, has human rights violations and undermines democracy.

“The allegations from the west do not reflect the real situation in Cambodia, the CPP strictly respects the principle of law,” he said. “Those foreigners cannot say the election in Cambodia is not free and fair.”

Eysan compared the demonstration after the 2013 election in Cambodia to the US Capitol Hill riot earlier this month.

 

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