Outgoing Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 3 explained the four key factors that led to his decision to relinquish the top office, while also warning that he would return to power should his immediate successor Hun Manet be faced with “life-threatening incidents”.
“Many people have asked why I would depart from the prime ministerial position when the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] has such high support among the public. It is simple. It is because of my dedication to the long-term happiness, peace and development of the Kingdom,” he said.
Hun Sen spoke at length about his resignation plans while presiding over the inauguration of the third Phnom Penh ring road. He said he would request the King to appoint Manet as prime minister-in-waiting on August 7. The appointment will be made official on August 22, when a new Cabinet is formed following a vote of confidence at the National Assembly.
“I have already devoted myself to the country and people. I risked my own head as a pawn to liberate the country, putting myself on the line unifying the country and ending the prolonged civil war. I risked my political life in exchange for political and economic reform in Cambodia. Now, I want to devote myself again, in exchange for the long-term happiness of our people,” he said.
He gave four reasons for his relinquishment that paved the way for the next generation to take over.
“First of all, transferring this position to the next generation now means the process would be far more stable and secure than doing it when I am getting older or dead,” he said.
“How many people in Cambodia have done this in the past? I could actually stand as prime minister for another five or 10 years. But it is not good to wait until we are old or dead,” he said, revealing that there had been questions since 2016 as to who would succeed him as prime minister.
He explained that prior to the latest amendment, there was no clear-cut pathway for a smooth transfer of power in line with the Constitution. The previous version, he said, could have meant that the Cabinet be dissolved in the event of the prime minister’s death. He warned that such a situation could easily lead to fighting if various contenders vied for the top office.
“If the president of the party – who is also prime minster – passed away, then several people could end up fighting to get the position, and what would happen then? Such a situation could lead to a political environment in which ‘the strongest is the winner’ and that could lead to bloodshed to assume power. It’s not easy. Now, I will be available to guide my successor,” he said.
He suggested that this was one of the reasons why he encouraged members of the older and younger generations to work hand in hand from the outset of the new government.
“Secondly, the new generation will now assume leadership positions, but only after they have excellent preparations. They will carry on the burden from those of us who are old as they begin their own long journeys. But remember, they are not too young to lead. If compared to me, I started this position when I was 32. Now, the new prime minister will be 46 years old,” he said, referring to Manet.
Hun Sen noted that the younger generation had already taken several important ministerial positions, including Aun Pornmoniroth as finance minister, Hang Chuon Naron as education minister, Say Samal as environment minister, Dith Tina as agriculture minister, Chea Vandeth as telecoms minister, and Koeut Rith as justice minister, along with many other young bloods serving as secretaries of state.
He confirmed that some ministers will remain in their incumbent positions in the next mandate, namely women’s affairs minister Ing Kantha Phavi and culture minister Phoeurng Sackona.
He also stressed that ministers in the next government mandate must be under 70 years old. And should those over the age of 70 refuse to resign, the party would take action. He noted that nearly half of the new Cabinet members hold PhDs.
The third reason, he said, was because he would still serve as president of the CPP. Although he would not interfere with the new prime minister’s work, he would serve as a second tier that would offer support and ensure that the successor fulfils the party’s promises to voters.
Hun Sen reiterated that he would return to power should Manet be faced with life-threatening incidents.
“I would resume the prime ministerial role so the Kingdom can avoid chaos, and I would select the next successor,” he said.
The fourth reason, he said, was the increase of support for the CPP as indicated by the number of votes garnered during the July 23 general election. He noted that if the party had won less than 74 per cent of the votes, he would not have stepped down. As it turned out, the CPP earned more than 82 per cent of the total votes.
“This also demonstrated that the public support Manet, as he had already been declared the future prime ministerial candidate. Moreover, the general situation in the country is stable enough for the transition of power,” he said.
“So, it is time that I leave. Today will be the last time I address a public event as prime minister,” he added.
Hun Sen thanked the public for their support of his party as well as for Manet. He said Manet will officially begin serving as prime minster on August 22 when the National Assembly approves a new Cabinet.
He also hit back at critics who suggested that he had handed the reins of power to Manet.
“I did’t raise my son to become a thief or a cheat. You have to remember that no parent wants their children to do bad things. We all want our children to have a good job, but I would never let my children destroy the achievements of Cambodia,” he said.
“You should stop saying we are passing power to him. In our Constitution, there is no clause mentioning that my son is banned from being prime minister. My son is like the son of any other person, and has the right to contest for power,” he added.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said a transfer of power during a period of political stability is the key to avoiding any issues or chaos in the country. This marks the first time in Cambodia that the transfer of power has been carried out so smoothly.
“The new generation of leaders have already involved in social and political work, and have gained valuable knowledge and experience. They are already working at different ministries and institutions, so it is a suitable time for them to take over their new roles,” he added.
He also saw the fact that the new prime minister will be assisted and oriented by his predecessor as a positive.
“Although the outgoing politicians won’t directly lead the country, they will still be involved in mapping the political direction of the party and the top government institutions,” he added.