Cambodia’s Election Result Confirms Hun Sen’s Expected Win as PM

Cambodia’s outgoing leader, Hun Sen, celebrated his 71st birthday with the official confirmation of his party’s landslide victory in the recent election. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 120 out of 125 seats, leading to criticisms of the election being a sham due to the main opposition, the Candlelight Party, being banned on a technicality. The result now paves the way for Hun Sen to proceed with his plan to appoint his son, Hun Manet, as his successor.

Hun Manet, who is 45 years old and previously commanded the Royal Cambodian Army, has long been groomed for the role. The transition of power was initially indicated in 2021, but the exact timing remained unclear until July. The confirmation that Hun Manet has been elected a Member of Parliament removes the final procedural obstacle to his assumption of office. It is expected that Hun Sen will request the King to appoint him as the prime minister on Monday.

Hun Sen has expressed that the succession is intended to maintain peace and prevent any potential “bloodshed” if he were to die while in office. Additionally, he is expected to become the president of the Senate early next year and act as the head of state when King Norodom Sihamoni is abroad.

However, Hun Sen’s rule has grown increasingly authoritarian since he ascended to power following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime four decades ago. He has concentrated power by exerting control over the military, police, and financial interests. Critics argue that he has silenced opponents through co-optation, imprisonment, or exile. Some even described the recent election as more of a coronation than a contested democratic process.

The main opposition party, the Candlelight Party, which posed as a credible challenger to Hun Sen, was disqualified from participating in the election due to alleged incorrect paperwork. The CPP secured 78% of the popular vote, receiving 6,398,311 votes out of a total of 8.2 million ballots cast. The royalist Funcinpec Party obtained five seats, while the remaining 16 opposition parties failed to gain representation.

Prior to the election, the Cambodian government criminalized any attempts to boycott or tamper with the ballot papers. Due to concerns about the lack of freedom and fairness, the United States, European Union, and other Western nations declined to send observers to monitor the election. EU officials highlighted the restricted political and civic space, where the opposition, civil society, and the media faced hindrances in functioning effectively.

Hun Manet celebrated the election result on social media by sharing an image on Instagram, featuring his young son presenting a bouquet of blue and yellow flowers to Hun Sen in honor of his birthday.

The confirmed election results consolidate Hun Sen’s authority, further extending his rule which has faced criticism for its increasing autocracy. As Cambodia moves forward under this leadership, questions arise about the future of democracy and human rights in a country where Hun Sen’s grip on power continues to tighten.