On the day Hun Sen handed over the reins of power to the new Prime Minister, Hun Manet, he took a moment to reflect on a significant regret from his tenure.
The former Prime Minister, who served for 38 years, voiced his sorrow about the devastating impact of Covid-19, which resulted in the loss of thousands of Cambodian lives and drained the nation of billions in development funds.
Addressing the press on August 22, Hun Sen highlighted how the pandemic had brought Cambodia’s economic growth and development to an unexpected standstill, significantly impacting the country’s poverty reduction initiatives.
“Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in early 2020, the government had to divert almost $4 billion, earmarked for national development, to combat the spread and effects of the virus,” he said.
Reflecting on his 38 years in office, Hun Sen acknowledged both achievements and regrets. However, the most significant setback he faced was the disruption to the nation’s progress due to the pandemic.
“Our economy was growing at a consistent rate of 7 per cent annually,” he shared with the attending journalists. “We had managed to reduce poverty levels to below 10 per cent of our population. But the pandemic changed everything”.
He continued: “I had set aside close to $4 billion for infrastructural growth, wanting to reduce our reliance on foreign assistance. But we had to use all of it in order to tackle Covid-19 and support our citizens. This is my deepest regret”.
Covid-19 claimed the lives of 3,056 individuals in Cambodia. Hun Sen expressed deep sorrow, noting the significant loss of life during a time when the nation was at peace.
Seun Sam, a policy analyst from the Royal Academy of Cambodia, believes Hun Sen’s reflections offer a lesson for future leaders, particularly regarding the importance of budgetary preparations for unforeseen challenges.
However, he praised Hun Sen’s handling of the pandemic, especially given Cambodia’s stature.
“He procured vaccines and implemented preventative measures very effectively,” noted Sam.
“Hun Sen has always been adaptable in his foreign policies. Despite our nation’s complex past, Hun Sen has always managed to foster positive relationships with countries within the region and globally, always with Cambodia’s best interests at heart,” he added.
Sam further credited the former Prime Minister for bringing about political stability and setting Cambodia on a path to development.
Pov Sok, an advisor to Hun Sen, echoed similar sentiments.
He spoke of Hun Sen’s achievements in ending civil strife, fostering national unity and upholding the integrity of the nation’s constitution and monarchy.
“What he leaves behind for future generations is a testament to his love for Cambodia and its people. He never saw any Cambodian as an adversary, always championing national reconciliation and progress,” Sok concluded.