Chai Shai Chaishai with me

One of the world's longest-serving leaders will likely win another lopsided election.

One of the world’s longest-ruling leaders is hoping to keep his son in power for a while longer by holding another closely controlled election with no real opposition.

Only the presidents of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, both of whom are authoritarians like Hun Sen, have remained in power longer than the 70-year-old Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen.

On Sunday, citizens of the Southeast Asian country go to the polls to participate in the country’s seventh general election, although few are expecting any major surprises.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is almost unchallenged after weeks of campaigning and crackdowns on opposition individuals.

Mu Sochua, a former minister of women’s and veterans’ affairs who has since left to another country, claimed that Hun Sen, like all dictators, will never relinquish his position of authority.

She claimed that Hun Sen would use the next election on July 23 as a means to force his policies and candidates onto the Cambodian people. At this late stage in his career, he is attempting to protect his power and pass it on to his eldest son, therefore he has adopted brutal policies and methods to eliminate political opponents and critics.

From freedom to total dictatorship

The Khmer Rouge regime unleashed a genocide on its own people, leaving families with intergenerational trauma and ensuring that poverty and corruption remain deeply rooted in Cambodia, a country of 16.5 million people, famous for its stunning Angkor temples.

Hun Sen, a defecting former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled Cambodia for almost four decades.

At first, elections were close and the opposition was allowed to function. In recent years, however, Hun Sen has become increasingly dictatorial, silencing criticism and imprisoning opponents, and driving many to seek asylum abroad.

He has also gotten closer to China and criticized Western countries, who he has long said support Cambodia’s political opposition.

Bridget Welsh, a political analyst, observed, “The irony is that as Hun Sen has curtailed political space at home, removing domestic political challenges, he has garnered greater criticism abroad.”

The problem is that the election will be perceived as not being democratic and so not legitimate. Cambodia is not a democracy because it lacks open elections, independent media, and adequate space for civil society.

The CPP has claimed that the presence of 17 minor political parties proves that it is a multiparty democracy.

Rights groups and political observers, however, dispute this, claiming that all significant opposition parties and personalities have been neutered, arrested, or outlawed in Cambodia.

Kenneth Roth, a former leader of Human Rights Watch, stated that Hun Sen was frightened to run on his record and preferred to hold a meaningless election rather than take a chance on a fair and independent judgment of his dictatorial leadership.

Next prime minister

Experts predict that Hun Sen would hand control to his son Hun Manet after this election in Cambodia.

Hun Manet, the eldest of three sons, is 45 years old and has been a member of the Cambodian armed forces for a long time.

He was born and raised in Phnom Penh and attended school there before enlisting in the Cambodian military in 1995. He became the first Cambodian to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point after enrolling there in the same year and studying there for four years.

In 2002, he graduated with a degree in economics from New York University, and in 2008, he earned a similar degree from the University of Bristol.

In a speech given in 2021, Hun Sen declared his kid to be a “future prime minister.”

On Sunday, Hun Manet will make his debut in politics by running for a parliamentary seat.

When asked about Hun Manet, Welsh replied he “needs to earn his own legitimacy.”

She told that he would need to “come out of the shadow of his father and set his own pattern of leadership.” Hun Sen will still be the most powerful figure in Cambodian politics, and it’s unclear how much he’ll be willing to give up power.

German political expert Markus Karbaum noted that despite Hun Manet’s first-class abroad education and some popularity among younger Cambodians, he will have severe challenges stepping into his father’s footsteps.

The political legacy left by Hun Sen is “poisoned” by corruption and nepotism, as stated by Karbaum.

“When it comes to international relations, it will be challenging for Hun Manet to emerge from his shadow so long as he continues to enjoy good health,” he concluded. A politician without power and a mandate will not be regarded seriously, and this will cause him to lose significant respect on the international stage.

Repeating the past, with demands for a boycott

Since an opposition coalition, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), won more than 40% of the vote in the country’s elections in 2013, Cambodia has intensified its political persecution.

Hun Sen’s hold on power was further threatened by the subsequent massive opposition rallies.

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia banned the CNRP and scores of its leaders were imprisoned or forced into exile.

The electoral process this year has followed a familiar script.

The Candlelight Party, which grew out of the remnants of the CNRP and posed the only credible threat to Hun Sen and the ruling CPP, was outlawed early this year for failing to properly register as a political party.

Rights groups have noticed an increase in harassment and detention of opposition members by Cambodian government officials in the weeks running up to the election.

(Opposition party members) are now targets of the Cambodian government’s open-season policy, which involves false and abusive criminal accusations. Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson has stated that the government should stop persecuting the opposition, withdraw all false charges against them, and release all those who have been unfairly arrested immediately.

In a Facebook post, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is currently in self-imposed exile, urged Cambodians to vote provisionally on Sunday.

Hun Sen has threatened penalties for individuals who taint their ballots, and the Cambodian government barred Rainsy from politics for 25 years due to his campaign.

According to Reuters, two members of the Candlelight Party were jailed this week for encouraging voters to trash their ballots.

According to Rainsy’s claims, the purpose of this election is to ensure that Hun Sen’s family and regime supporters continue to hold power.

It’s not a free and fair election in Cambodia, and Cambodians are being defrauded regardless of which party they favor. He also said that spoiled ballots would demonstrate the desire of average Cambodians to take part in fair elections.

As a result of feeling trapped, many Cambodians have voiced feelings of apathy and fear about participating in politics.

A voter in her fifties named Teang from Phnom Penh said she would vote for the ruling CPP because she feared retaliation if she did not.

The way this election has gone down has made me suspicious about the secrecy of my ballot, which is something I’ve always taken for granted.

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