Hun Sen’s Battle for Middle Earth
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Hun Sen’s Battle for Middle Earth

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PHNOM PENH – Cambodia has never enjoyed the kind of political clout its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam have been able to assert on the international stage. This issue does not sit well with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who wants to see his country’s standing improve significantly.

But the key to raising Cambodia’s stature is Hun Sen’s own success. After 28 years in power, he is by far the region’s longest-serving elected leader.

His autocratic style and a pronouncement that he would like to stay in power until he is 90 has won Hun Sen stately comparisons with Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew from his friends…and less flattering parallels with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe by his critics.

With the recent passing of Cambodia’s former monarch Norodom Sihanouk — a constant political and royal figure in Cambodian life for the last 70 years — and the bullying of opponents out of electoral prominence, the 60-year-old premier now stands alone.

He likes to remind Cambodians and foreigners alike that only he controls the military and the police, and that the stability he delivered after ending three decades of war in 1998 has underpinned the economic growth that is raising living standards across the country.

That assumption of control gnaws at human rights activists and civil society groups who squarely blame Hun Sen for the ills that have afflicted Cambodia during the last 15 years of peace.

And there are many.

Corruption, electoral-related violence and a culture of impunity among the politically connected and well-heeled has created a rift between his government and the overwhelming majority of Cambodians whose daily lives are still dictated by a hand-to-mouth existence.

The killing of a high profile environmentalist and the jailing of a broadcaster for 20 years in 2012 raised the tempo on Cambodia’s human rights violations, which was a major focus during last November’s visit by Barack Obama — the first trip to this country by a sitting U.S. president.

“Hun Sen does get blamed for every ill that blights this country but how much he really knows about what his subordinates do and what he does about it — or what he does not do about it -– remains tightly guarded,” said one long-term observer.

Comments
26
Naranhkiri Tith
February 19, 2014 at 23:40

Thank you for a very insightful and encompassing view of Cambodia under Hun Sen dictatorship. I want to draw the attention of the readers of this article about Mr. Hunt’s last paragraph of his article, as follows:
Hun Sen’s greatest asset — as even his opponents acknowledge -– was that he secured what this country needed most–peace. But Cambodia’s dark past is now consigned to the history books. If Hun Sen truly is in control then he needs to combat corruption, end the culture of impunity and punish those who have committed horrendous crimes of their own in more recent years. Is this sentence a praise for Hun Sen for contribution to peace in Cambodia My question is whether is or is not a criminal and a killer? The answer to this question can only be seriously examined by an international court such as the ICC. This is the way to be sure to have a more balanced answer as to whether did or did not contribute to peace in Cambodia. Naranhkiri Tith Ph.D.

Bob
July 1, 2013 at 16:13

"Hun Sen’s greatest asset — as even his opponents acknowledge -– was that he secured what this country needed most–peace." Yes…that is what all dictatorship regimes stake their claim.  On closer look, the so-called peace is not through democratic process but through the barrel of guns, intimidation, coercion, violent, and killing of those who both criticize and oppose the CPP.  

Khmer_man
June 26, 2013 at 01:00

Hun Sen has to go…This is not Democracy.  It's a barbaric government today in Cambodia.

[...] Hun Sen’s Battle for Middle Earth | The Diplomat. [...]

Nene7Shumal
February 3, 2013 at 05:03

Manila was not the only offended party, other ASEAN leaders did not get opportunity to have a resolution on the growing aggression in the sea lanes. The protocols were not followed properly, would’ve been a great forum to address issues. History now shows where Cambodia stands. The story is factual fair and balanced in my opinion.

February 1, 2013 at 10:29

[...] http://thediplomat.com/2013/01/29/hun-sens-battle-for-middle-earth-2/ This entry was posted in News/Articles. Bookmark the permalink. ← KPNC Letter to President Obama [...]

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