By Karan Kochhar
The environment, Cambodia Prime Minister, Hun Sen was exposed to as a young adult greatly influenced the person we know today. His disdain for world’s foremost nations is evident in his begrudging speeches towards the west. He is an avowed communist and founded the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) in 1966.
Learning from surroundings
What transpired in Hun Sen’s life that made him a megalomaniac? Hun Sen was less than 10 years old when his grandmother was kidnapped for ransom by anti-colonial rebels. The ransom, he was told, would fund the fight against the colonial power ravaging Cambodia. As an adolescent, Hun Sen spent his time in Me Mut, a district bordering Vietnam. Me Mut was the hub of communist activities with a flux of rebels moving across Vietnam and Cambodia. Having secretly studied the writing of his communist teacher in Phnom Penh, ideas of communism were eventually reinforced by the environment he was surrounded around.
Driving force for Hun Sen
An obsessive desire for power motivates Hun Sen to overcome virtues singular to humanity-freedom and self-expression. The 67-year old leader of Cambodia, Hun Sun, known to repress dissents, completed 30 years of his autocratic rule in 2015. In September this year, he ordered the arrest of Kem Sokha, the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on absurd charges. His government has forced the shutdown of 24-year old Cambodia Daily over trumped-up tax evasion charges. This was after the shutdown of 15 independent broadcasting programmes. Sen responded with utmost ease stating he will continue to rule Cambodia for another 10 years after witnessing the treasonous acts to remove him from power.
Move to make Cambodia autocratic
Although the strength of the opposition was already waning, Hun Sen’s recent blow has effectively reduced any chance of the opposition recuperating. With the judiciary in the back of his pocket, Cambodia’s highest court dissolved the main opposition party (CNRP). The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the government alleging opposition party’s involvement in a US-backed coup d’etat. The court also banned 118 opposition members from politics. Incidentally, the right to appeal was also withdrawn from the defendants.
The popularity of CNRP can be gauged from the fact that it won 43 percent of the votes during the local election. However, with the opposition member banned from participating in governance, the seats of the elected officials will be passed onto unqualified people. Public sector already suffers from rampant corruption and companies are expected to deal with extensive red tape. Though the quality of governance has risen with schemes initiated by United Nations Development Program (UNDP), parameters such as the number of qualified people in government continue to shrink.
Relations with the world
The Cambodian economy is also likely to be impacted by the dissolution of the opposition party. The EU and USA issued strong statements after the dissolving of CNRP. The EU is significant importer of the Cambodian garment industry, employing about 600,000 people. Together with the USA, EU market imports over 60 percent of Cambodian garments, estimated to be $7.3-billion in value. Besides trade, US and EU provide significant developmental aid to the south Asian nation-estimated to cross €410 million between 2014 to 2020. Though the US has already threatened to withdraw aid, Hun Sen has remained resilient suggesting deepening of relations with China.
Consolidation of power through family
An investigation by Global Witness points out that Hun Sen’s family has been instrumental in prolonging his role as the prime minister of Cambodia. Hun Sen’s eldest son is a lieutenant general in Royal Cambodian Army and is reported to succeed his father. His personal bodyguard fleet is known to have committed grave human rights violations. He is also married to the daughter of the current secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour. His younger brother, Hun Manith is a lieutenant general in the military and the director of Cambodia’s second-largest energy supplier. He is also the director of Royal Cambodian Armed forces, a powerful military intelligence unit.
His eldest daughter Hun Mana holds interests in a pro-CPP newspaper, radio and T.V. She is married to the late feared police chief, Hok Lundy. Her youngest daughter, Hun Maly is married to the son of deputy prime minister and long Sen ally, Sok Ak. Another member of his family was made the police brigadier general in 2014 despite having been linked to hit and runs and numerous shootouts. Sen’s sibling, Dy Chouch, was responsible for illegal logging and violence against local communities. Sen’s niece is also married to National Police Commissioner.
According to the report, members of his family have been implicated in land grabbing causing mass displacement of Cambodia’s rural poor, heroin smuggling operation amounting to one billion dollars, hit and run case. An agricultural company linked to one of Hun Sen’s family members has been accused of using arson attacks and cobras to evict people from their homes.
What lies ahead
In 1993, when his party lost the UN-administered election, he refused to accept the election results and threatened to resort to violence. The UN eventually bowed to his conditions, giving him the position of the co-prime minister. The cult of Sen that emerged after this overshadowed any leader in his party. Every election since 1993 has left Hun Sen in power. Through a series of politically motivated arrests and shutting down institutions of free speech, Sen has ensured a ‘dissent-free’ nation.
For ensuring the continuation of ‘Hun Dynasty’ for years to come, Sen elevated the members of his family to key positions in the government. His sons are in key leadership positions in the military and have control over basic amenities such as energy and telecom. By forging alliances via marriages, Sen has tapped into the business elite of Cambodia. Sen’s immediate family has interests in 114 private domestic companies with a listed capital of more than $200-million.
Dissolution of the opposition party was the final nail in the coffin that has ended the pluralistic democracy started after the end of Khmer Rouge regime. Operating under the veil of democracy, the western nations had provided aid to Cambodia. However, without it, Cambodia should expect a host of sanctions like North Korea.
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