Longtime Cambodian leader Hun Sen said he will step down in three weeks as prime minister and hand the position to his oldest son, who won his first seat in parliament in Sunday’s election.
The announcement on Wednesday came after their Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide victory in weekend elections that Western countries and rights organisations criticised as neither free nor fair, and in which the country’s main opposition Candlelight Party was suppressed.
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Hun Sen has been Cambodia’s leader for 38 years but had said ahead of the elections that he would hand the position to his oldest son, Hun Manet, sometime during the next five-year term.
Hun Manet, 45, is currently the chief of the country’s army. In a televised address, Hun Sen, who is Asia’s longest-serving leader, said he had informed King Norodom Sihamoni of his decision and that the king had agreed.
“I would like to ask for understanding from the people as I announce that I will not continue as prime minister,” the 70-year-old said.
Election authorities disqualified the only serious challenger, the Candlelight Party, on a technicality in advance of the election, and the CPP is expected to win 120 of 125 lower house seats.
Hun Sen said his son would be named prime minister after the National Election Committee reports the final results of Sunday’s election.
He has also said that a new generation would take over many of the top ministerial positions in the new government, which he said would be formed on August 22.
Even though he is stepping down from the premiership, Hun Sen is widely expected to remain closely involved in running Cambodia, and is also to become president of the country’s Senate.
‘Neither free or fair’
The United States said the elections were “neither free nor fair”, pointing to “a pattern of threats and harassment against the political opposition, media, and civil society”.
“These actions denied the Cambodian people a voice and a choice in determining the future of their country,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Monday.
He said Washington was preparing to impose visa restrictions on some individuals for undermining democracy, and halting some aid programmes.
The European Union said it regretted that the Candlelight Party was excluded and called for detained opposition figures to be released. Former colonial power France said the Candlelight Party’s absence “undermined the pluralist nature of the ballot”.