Prime Minister Hun Sen hit back at unnamed critics who took issue with the recent courtesy call to King Noromdom Sihamoni, during which he introduced his son Hun Manet as his future successor.
Hun Sen and Manet paid the courtesy call to the King and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk on the afternoon of January 22.
Speaking while presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony for a new overpass in the capital’s Russey Keo district on January 31, Hun Sen said meeting with the King and Queen Mother was a regular part of his functions as prime minister. He noted that the King and Queen Mother have received both dignitaries and ordinary citizens.
The visit was criticised by analysts who said that Manet, currently deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of the Royal Cambodian Army – has no official duty to report to the King.
“I met the King and informed him that when I retire from politics, my son will continue as leader. It was just a normal meeting, but the analysts and pundits have interpreted it as a subject of some significance.
“The King and Queen Mother receive not only the prime minister but also ordinary people. Why don’t they bother to analyse any of those meetings?” Hun Sen asked rhetorically.
The premier’s response also made mention of the fact that Manet had already been introduced to the leaders of Vietnam and Myanmar – both in his military role and as the future candidate for prime minister following his retirement.
Manet was officially endorsed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as their prime ministerial candidate at the CPP’s 43rd Central Committee Meeting in Phnom Penh on December 24.
Khin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said there was nothing wrong with Hun Sen introducing Manet to the King, saying that his succession was widely announced and publicised following his father’s explicit endorsement.
“There is nothing wrong with the prime minister doing so. The King often grants the courtesy of an audience to people when convenient. Introducing the ruling party’s future prime ministerial candidate to the King should hardly be judged controversial and it will give Manet further confidence and help prepare him for the future.
“As we know, although Manet is the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, he will not just inherit the position from his father without any opposition. He will need to go through the process of being formally selected by the party and then he will need to successfully contest the national election,” Phea said.
Hun Sen also responded to those critical of the absence of a Victory over Genocide Day celebration in 2021 and 2022.
The celebrations are meant to mark the end of the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule over Cambodia, but they were cancelled the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The absence of the celebrations was interpreted by some political analysts as the CPP “backing away” or distancing itself from Vietnam.
“I would like to reaffirm to all doctoral candidates and pundits that there is no chance that the CPP and the people of Cambodia who survived to see January 7 will ever forget that date. We will always remember the victory over the genocidal regime,” he said.
He stated that he regards the January 7 – which was achieved with the assistance of Vietnam – as the beginning of a new life for the Cambodian people and the second rebirth of the nation.
“Whether you accept it or not is up to you. But the CPP will never forget January 7. While it is true that Vietnam helped Cambodia a great deal, remember that it was Cambodia who reaped the real benefits of our victory that day,” he said.
The premier also defended what some critics refer to as the “iron fist” with which he rules Cambodia and his sometimes strict reactions to criticisms.
“If I had not wielded an iron fist, you would probably have witnessed chaos throughout the whole country. When you commit an offence against the social order – I must use my iron fist. Why? To protect the lives and the happiness of all of the people.
“Should your little group of 10 or 100 people look to make trouble, agitate and cause chaos in Cambodia, then why shouldn’t I use my iron fist?” he asked rhetorically.
Regarding the January 7 holiday, Phea said it is the cornerstone of the CPP’s political legacy. Liberating the population from the genocidal regime remains the CPP’s greatest achievement, he said, and so the party has every right to use the victory in its political messaging.
“There is no way that the CPP will forget the January 7 victory as it is their political legacy. It lends them legitimacy – whether for the current leadership or the leaders of the future,” he said.