Cambodia’s king has approved the nomination of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son as the nation’s next leader after their party sealed victory in a one-sided election last month.
King Norodom Sihamoni’s decree, endorsing the 45-year-old Hun Manet on Monday, was shared on Hun Sen’s Telegram channel and signals the imminent end of the incumbent leader’s nearly four decades at the helm of a country rebounding from decades of war and poverty.
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The appointment requires the approval of the newly elected National Assembly, expected later this month.
Hun Manet, who is Cambodia’s current army chief, thanked the king for his trust and said in a Telegram post that it was his life’s highest honour to serve the nation and its people.
He added that he was determined to fulfil his duties and promised to keep raising Cambodians’ living standards and the nation’s prestige.
The king’s decree came after Cambodia’s electoral body on Saturday announced the final results of last month’s election. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won some 120 of 125 parliamentary seats in a contest in which all viable opposition was sidelined.
Hun Manet won his first seat in parliament in the election, and the handover from his father is part of a larger, generational shift: Many younger legislators are expected to take up ministerial positions, including Hun Sen’s youngest son and others related to older party members.
Many were educated in the West, like Hun Manet, who has a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, a master’s degree from New York University and a doctorate from Bristol University in the United Kingdom, all in economics.
After the royal decree was announced, Hun Sen posted on Telegram and the X social media platform that he was stepping down to give a “chance to the successors to lead”.
Hun Sen, who turned 71 on Saturday, noted that he took office at age 32 as the youngest prime minister in the world at the time.
He added that stepping down as prime minister “is not the end yet” and he would serve in other positions at least until 2033, which would bring him to a half-century in office.
Hun Sen is expected to retain a large amount of control as president of the CPP and as the president of the Senate.
“I will still have the ability to serve the interests of the people and help the government oversee the country’s security and public order, as well as joining them in guiding the development of the country,” Hun Sen said on July 26, the day he announced the widely expected succession plan.
Cambodia under Hun Sen has ushered in a free-market economy that raised living standards, but the gap between the country’s rich and poor has widened and land grabs by the prime minister’s domestic allies and foreign investors are widespread.
After a strong election challenge from the opposition in 2013 that the CPP barely overcame, Hun Sen targeted the opposition’s leaders and the main party was dissolved by Cambodia’s sympathetic courts.
The pattern of crushing any serious opposition followed this year when the main challenger was banned on a technicality before the vote.
The European Union said the election was “conducted in a restricted political and civic space where the opposition, civil society and the media were unable to function effectively without hindrance”.
The United States went further, imposing visa restrictions on individuals it considered responsible and pausing foreign assistance programs.