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szdaily -> Person of the week
Cambodia strongman seeks 2018 re-election
     2015-May-1  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    ASIA’S longest-serving leader, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, announced his intention Wednesday to run for another term, warning that only his re-election in 2018 would keep the country from civil war.

    The announcement will come as little surprise to Cambodians, who have heard the 63-year-old, self-styled “strongman” promise to stay in power until he is 74 and also predict a descent to the dark days of conflict without him at the helm.

    “Hun Sen will win again, that’s because the victory is with peace like this. People don’t have to flee and crawl,” Hun Sen said in a speech, making his customary reference to himself in the third person.

    Analysts say the former Khmer Rouge soldier, who has been prime minister for 30 years, appears intent on building a political dynasty by promoting his three U.S. military-trained sons to top positions in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the army.

    Hun Sen’s rule has seen him chided by rights groups for authoritarianism, stamping out critics and using his influence over judges, police and the media to stifle his political opponents.

    Robust economic growth, jobs creation and sustained peace for an impoverished country roiled by decades of civil war have ensured Hun Sen’s continued re-election, although experts say he now faces a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition popular among urban youth.

    His CPP returned to power in 2013 with a greatly reduced majority after losing many seats to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The 2018 vote is expected to be a close contest.

    A long dispute between CPP and CNRP over the 2013 election result was resolved last year, but there have been signs recently that the political truce may not hold.

    Hun Sen has been irked by opposition calls for a change in laws to limit premiers to a number of terms.

    Born into a peasant family in 1952, Hun Sen was educated by Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh.

    In the late 1960s, he joined the Communist Party, and for a while he was even a member of the Khmer Rouge — although he denies accusations that he was any more than an ordinary soldier.

    He lost his left eye during an exchange of gunfire and he has reportedly said he can only see a limited distance.

    During Pol Pot’s tyrannical regime in the late 1970s, under which as many as 2 million people died, Hun Sen fled to Vietnam to join troops opposed to the Khmer Rouge.

    When Vietnam installed a new government in Cambodia in 1979, he returned as minister of foreign affairs, becoming prime minister in 1985 at the age of 33.

    Hun Sen lost the 1993 elections, but he refused to accept the results and forced a negotiation to become second prime minister alongside the Funcinpec Party’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

    He went on to seize power in a bloody coup in 1997, forcing Prince Ranariddh to temporarily leave the country.

    The CPP won general elections in 2003 but did not have two-thirds majority, so it struck a deal with Funcinpec in 2004, ending almost a year of political deadlock. Hun Sen was re-elected prime minister by parliament in July 2004.

    In Cambodia’s 2008 elections the CPP won most of the contested seats. But the polls were criticized by international monitors, with the European Union saying the ruling party made “consistent and widespread” use of state resources for its own campaign.

    Rights groups have also regularly criticized the country’s human rights situation.

    “The human rights situation in Cambodia deteriorated markedly in 2012 with a surge in violent incidents, as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party prepared for national elections,” Human Rights Watch said.

    At least 35 rights activists “opposing land grabs and demanding better working conditions were killed, wounded, arbitrarily arrested, threatened with arrest, or kept in exile by CPP-led security forces and the CPP-controlled judiciary.”

    Ahead of these elections, Hun Sen faced calls from the United States to allow his main rival, Sam Rainsy, to return.

    A royal pardon was subsequently granted to Rainsy, who had been living abroad after being jailed in absentia on charges he said were politically motivated.

    Rainsy returned to Cambodia but remains unable to run in the polls on a technicality. And observers say that the conditions for a fair election do not exist because of the CPP’s tight control over the media, judiciary and other key state organs.

    Some political opponents of Hun Sen accuse him of being a Vietnamese puppet. This is due to his position in the government created by Vietnam while Cambodia was under Vietnamese military occupation and the fact that he was a prominent figure in the CPP, which governed Cambodia as a one-party state under Vietnamese military occupation from 1979 until elections in 1993. Hun Sen and his supporters reject such charges, saying that he represents only the Cambodian people.

    Hun Sen’s government has been responsible for the sale of 45 percent of the total landmass in Cambodia — primarily to foreign investors — in the years 2007-2008, threatening more than 150,000 Cambodians with eviction. Parts of the concessions are wildlife protection areas or national parks, and the landsales have been perceived by observers to be the result of government corruption. Already thousands of citizens have become victims of forced evictions.

    Hun Sen was implicated in corruption related to Cambodia’s oil wealth and mineral resources in the Global Witness 2009 report on Cambodia. He and his close associates were accused of carrying out secret negotiations with interested private parties, taking money from those who he would then grant rights to exploit the country’s resources. The credibility of this accusation has been questioned by government officials and especially Hun Sen himself.

    CPP has placed bans on public gatherings, driven opposition supporters from the site of former protest meetings “Freedom Park,” and deployed riot police to beat protesters and detain union leaders.

    In a speech inaugurating a 2,200-meter Mekong River bridge that is the country’s longest last year, Hun Sen defended his record, saying that only he had been daring enough to tackle the Khmer Rouge and help bring peace to Cambodia.

    “If Hun Sen hadn’t been willing to enter the tigers’ den how could we have caught the tigers?” he said. He acknowledged some shortcomings but pleaded for observers to see the good as well as the bad in his leadership.

    “For me, I think the Cambodian People’s Party is good because it saved people from the genocide regime of Pol Pot, and rebuilt the country. I wonder if I have seen the opposition party do anything for the country so far.”

    Hun Sen is married to Bun Rany. They have six children.

    (SD-Agencies)

    Personal profile

    Hun Sen has been in power since 1985 and is one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers.

    He is credited with helping achieve economic growth after the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

    But the prime minister, 63, is also seen as an authoritarian figure with a poor human rights record and the resources to thwart any real political challenge.

    He shows no signs of wanting to relinquish power.

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