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This week our top story explores the politics behind Cambodia’s opposition-free election. We also have an interview with M. Humayun Kabir, a Bangladeshi career diplomat who is currently president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), about the prospect for fair and credible elections in Bangladesh.
The Diplomat Brief
July 19, 2023
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores the politics behind Cambodia’s opposition-free election. We also have an interview with M. Humayun Kabir, a Bangladeshi career diplomat who is currently president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), about the prospect for fair and credible elections in Bangladesh.
Story of the week
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In Cambodia, Hun Sen Searches for the Magic Political Formula

What Happened: Cambodians will go to the polls on July 23 for a national election that is certain to deliver another victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Back in May, the Candlelight Party, the only meaningful source of opposition, was barred from participating for supposedly submitting the wrong registration documents. This makes it likely that the CPP will repeat the result of 2018, when it won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. While the result of the election is clear in advance, the stakes for Hun Sen are still high, given his carefully laid plans to hand over power to his son Hun Manet, which is expected to take place sometime after the election.

Our Focus: For Hun Sen, “the real work will begin after election day,” Markus Karbaum, a researcher focused on Cambodia and Southeast Asia, writes for The Diplomat. “The composition of the new cabinet marks another and the most significant step yet in the generational transition in Cambodia’s top political posts.” While Hun Sen has been setting up his son as his successor for years, a power transition is going to be tricky in such a personalized political system. “Therefore, Cambodia is entering its most fragile political phase in at least 25 years,” Karbaum notes. Hun Sen will work carefully to ensure that all the major players in the party, state, and army are on board before formally handing over power.

What Comes Next: Beyond ensuring a smooth political transition at the elite level, the bigger challenge will be retaining the fig leaf of popular support. Hun Sen has built his legitimacy on the claim that he restored peace to Cambodia after the bloody years of Khmer Rouge rule. Passing the torch to Hun Manet, though, is hard to justify as anything other than a naked dynastic power grab. The power transition thus risks laying bare the endemic corruption already lurking in plain sight: “Cambodia’s ministries are on the verge of becoming family-run hereditary farms, making it clear once again that the political elite does not like to make a distinction between state and private property.”

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Behind the News


M. Humayun Kabir

M. Humayun Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) on the prospects for a fair election next year: “The history of Bangladesh offers a mixed picture, filled with both a sense of optimism and a sense of pessimism. The optimism comes from the fact that despite the posturing, political parties in Bangladesh had to eventually come to an agreement in the past… The pessimism comes from the fact that most of the past political changes were settled on the basis of street power.”

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This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

US Climate Envoy Visits Beijing

John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate, is now the third U.S. Cabinet-level official to visit China in the past month, following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen. Unlike Blinken and Yellen, however, Kerry had visited China twice before; he was hoping to restore previous progress rather than starting afresh. Despite the recent influx of visits, though, mutual trust between China and the U.S. remains a distant prospect.

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South Asia

Modi Visit Highlights India-France Ties

Fresh off a state visit to the U.S. in late June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued his globetrotting with a visit to France. The U.S. trip garnered more attention, but India’s relationship with France is arguably even stronger: both are proud democracies that are concerned about China, but also skeptical of too closely following the U.S. lead. India also imports more arms from France than from the U.S., and defense cooperation featured heavily in Modi’s visit.

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Southeast Asia

Thailand’s Prime Minister Deadlock Continues

On July 19, Thailand’s parliament yet again failed to agree on a prime minister candidate, after Pita Limjaroenrat, whose Move Forward Party holds the most seats, was denied the chance to seek support in a second vote. Pita fell short in the first vote held on July 13. Both times, Pita’s candidacy was sunk by the opposition of the 250-member Senate, whose members are appointed by the military and are generally opposed to the MFP’s reformist platform. Notably, Pita and his eight-party coalition hold the 75 percent of seats in the popularly elected lower house. The tension between military recalcitrance and popular will could see a new wave of protests as the prime minster deadlock continues.

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Central Asia

The Growing Appeal of Mongolia’s Summer Festival Naadam

Naadam, a traditional summer festival celebrated in Mongolia for centuries, has over the last decade become more internationalized. As part of efforts to boost tourism and highlight Mongolia’s traditional heritage, the festival has increasingly drawn in visitors from abroad. The ancient celebration, mixed with modern Mongolia’s ambitions, is a vibrant celebration of Mongolian culture.

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Visualizing APAC

Supporters of the Move Forward Party gathered outside of Parliament to show their support for prime minister candidate Pita Limjaroenrat during the first vote on July 13.

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Word of the Week



Zǒuxiàn, Mandarin for “walking the route,” is an internet term that refer to the act of irregular migration to the U.S. via Latin America by foot.

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The Continued Imprisonment of Idris Hasan

The Diplomat Magazine | July 2023

The Continued Imprisonment of Idris Hasan

This month, our cover story examines the detention of Idris Hasan, whose case epitomizes China’s oppression of the Uyghurs – at home and abroad. We also revisit the legacy of the RAMSI mission in Solomon Islands, trace the history of the Korean War armistice, and examine the state of Bangladesh’s democracy as the country gears up for general elections. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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Taiwan Fellowship

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