Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, says he will resign and hand power to his eldest son Hun Manet, after ruling the country for almost four decades.
Political opponents have been imprisoned, sent into exile, and free expression has been repressed under Hun Sen. His party won a resounding victory just days earlier after running nearly unopposed in an election largely believed to be his last before the succession.
In a speech broadcast on state TV on Wednesday, he announced that his son Hun Manet would take over as prime minister “in the coming weeks”.
Hun Manet, 45, graduated from West Point military academy in the US and has a master’s degree from New York University and a PhD from the University of Bristol, both in economics.
Hun Manet was touted as his father’s option for successor in 2021 and had previously been endorsed as a “future prime minister” by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. He was elected to the National Assembly on Sunday, making him eligible to take up the role.
Hun Sen is anticipated to remain a significant figure even after the handover, and he has made it plain in media comments that he does not expect a change in administration style. “If my son fails to meet expectations. I will re-assume my role as prime minister,” he stated last month, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
In his announcement on Wednesday, Hun Sen said he would become president of the senate and act as head of state when the king is overseas.
Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, claims to have delivered peace, stability, and economic progress to Cambodia, rebuilding the country after the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities.
Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander before defecting to Vietnam and assisting in the overthrow of the regime that is claimed to have killed 2 million Cambodians.
Critics of Hun Sen argue that stability has come at the expense of human rights and free expression, and that economic prosperity has been accompanied by extreme inequality, corruption, and environmental degradation.
Under Hun Sen, Cambodia has become a close ally of China and has received Chinese investment through development assistance, loans and other business deals.