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Who is Hun Manet? Son of Prime Minister anointed as Cambodia’s next leader

A doctor of economics, military leader, graduate of Bristol University, Hun Manet, eldest son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been confirmed as the next leader of the country’s dominant political party, describing him as a “candidate for the Prime Minister”. [of] the future”.

At last week’s congress, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has all the seats in parliament, voted unanimously for 44-year-old Hun Manet to succeed his father.

In 2017, Hun Sen had the main opposition party dissolved after allegations of a plot to overthrow the government, meaning life under Hun Manet is almost inevitable. The burning question among observers now is whether he will follow his father’s dictatorial path.

Very little is known about Hun Manet, says Dr Lee Morgenbesser, senior lecturer at Griffith University’s School of Government and International Relations in Australia.

(LR) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen with son Hun Manet during a ceremony at a military base in Phnom Pen. Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Raised amid wealth and political celebrities, he shares few personal opinions on his own social media channels, instead posting photos of ceremonial events and his wife and children. “To rise to the top, it is beneficial for the sons of dictators to hide their beliefs, intentions and vision,” says Morgenbesser.

Hun Manet, the eldest of Hun Sen’s six children, has been “groomed to succeed his father, who ruled the country for more than three decades through a combination of corruption and repression,” he says.

In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranks just 21 out of 100 and ranks 160 out of 180 countries.

Hun Sen has a reputation for incarcerating political opponents and stamping out media criticism and civil disobedience. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report labeled his regime “abusive and authoritarian”.

But Kheang Un, a political science professor at Northern Illinois University, believes Hun Manet himself is seen as a “clean politician” and well-liked. “Their Manet is known for being educated, skilled, down to earth and friendly,” he says.

Echoing his father’s early days, he has so far taken a military rather than a political path. move through the ranks to become a lieutenant general. He has held numerous high profile positions and is now Deputy Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Joint Chief of Staff.

The military training and exposure to Western society puts him in a strong position to navigate Cambodia in an era of tense geopolitical competition between China and the United States, Un says, adding that his education in economics will also be an asset.

Morgenbesser says: “While there will be a temptation to label Hun Manet as some sort of progressive or reformer, he has done nothing to deserve the benefit of the doubt”.

“He’s just the next dictator,” he says. “Since returning from the United States…he has been busy cultivating support within the CPP, gaining the support of the security apparatus, building ties with business and helping eliminate political opposition. This should tell us everything we need to know.”

Time may reveal even more about Hun Manet. Hun Sen, 69, who has been in office since 1985, has said he will run in the 2023 elections.

Hun Manet is a member of the CPP’s standing committee and deputy head of the party’s central youth wing. He co-founded the NGO Samdech Techo Volunteer Youth Doctor Association with his wife, Pich Chanmony, and is also well connected to Thailand after helping out in a border dispute in 2011, according to Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the Center of Asean Community Studies. at Naresuan University, Thailand.

“However, the general impression of Hun Manet is that he is quite young and that his power comes from being Hun Sen’s son,” Chambers said. “Once Hun Sen himself has disappeared from the scene, one wonders how much charisma Hun Manet himself would have to continue the political supremacy of the Hun family.”