See More on Facebook


Hun Sen: A 20th Century Strongman in the 21st Century

Voted into power in 1985, Hun Sen helped rebuild Cambodia after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime forced the country to its knees, leaving an estimated two million dead.

Written by

Updated: February 1, 2018

33 years later,  the notorious strongman is still at the helm – and shows no signs of loosening his grip on power as the country prepares to head to the polls in July.

Always a controversial figure, the prime minister has been repeatedly accused of using underhanded and even violent methods to stamp out threats to his position. In 1997, his party wrested power from the royalist Funcinpec party – the winner of the 1993 elections- in a violent coup that lead to the execution of dozens of Funcinpec military officials, according The Phnom Penh Times.

The legitimacy of the 2008 and 2013 elections, were also questioned. According to the BBC, the EU accused the CPP of using state resources for its 2008 campaign, whilst Human Rights Watch commented on the government’s crackdown on activists and political opponents ahead of the 2013 elections.

Now, with another election looming on the horizon, history seems to be repeating itself.

In February last year, Hun Sen ordered controversial amendments to the 1997 Law on Political Parties, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

Some of the changes include preventing convicts from leading political parties and allowing authorities to disband a political party if its leaders are convicted of crimes, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

The changes were slammed by critics as paving the way for the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to be dissolved.

The amendments prompted popular CNRP President Sam Rainsy to resign in order to protect the party, as he had been convicted of offences believed to be politically motivated in the past.

Foreign and critical media, as well as NGOs were next to find themselves in the line of fire. In early August last year, The Phnom Penh Post reported that a number of media organisations and prominent NGOs faced accusations that they owed taxes, including English-language paper The Cambodia Daily, which was ordered to cough up $6.3 million in back taxes or face immediate closure.

Radio stations were not spared, with a number of broadcasters across the country abruptly ordered to shut down. Among those targeted were Phnom Penh-based Moha Nokor, a station broadcasting shows produced by the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), as well as foreign media.

The situation escalated further in September with the arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha – without any regard for his parliamentary immunity – for allegedly plotting a US-backed revolution to topple Hun Sen’s government. Sokha was transported almost 200 kilometres to a correction centre near the Vietnamese border, and authorities warned that arrests of other party members could follow.

A month later, the supreme court made a highly unpopular decision to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP was accused, like its leader, of involvement in a foreign-backed attempt at toppling the government.

Despite scant evidence, the presiding judge – senior CPP official Dith Munty – ordered the disbanding of the party and banned 118 of the CNRP’s senior officials from engaging in any political activities for five years. Because of changes to electoral laws made the month before, the CNRP also was stripped of all its seats in the National Assembly and commune chief positions, which were to be distributed to other political parties.

The move was widely condemned by the local and international community, with CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann branding the decision the “end of democracy,” according to The Phnom Penh Times.

CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua was more optimistic, stating in The Phnom Penh Times that although the move was a “blow to democracy,” the “democratic movement for change inside and outside Cambodia will be glued together stronger than ever.”

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here


Press freedom is deteriorating in Asia, elections may offer a reset button

With many countries going to polls this year, the electorate across Asia have a chance to turn around a worrying press freedom situation. Maria Ressa’s arrest on Wednesday was the latest in a string of blatant attacks on the freedom of the press in Southeast Asia. For those that don’t know, Ressa is an award-winning journalist and CEO of the news website the Rappler. Her coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s extra-judicial war on drugs has received recognition far beyond her borders and as such, she is seen as a direct threat to the government. The latest arrest, made without prior warning, stemmed from a libel case where the complaint was filed five years after the initial story was published. Numerous press alliances, including the Asia News Network, have condemned the arrest as a blatant attack on freedom of the press. As the Philippines chapter of the Centre for Media Freedom and

By Cod Satrusayang
February 15, 2019


Thai Princess Ubolratana disqualified from election next month

The Election Commission said that members of the royal family should be “above politics” and therefore cannot “hold any political office”. Thailand’s Election Commission has ruled a princess out of next month’s election as uncertainty hangs over the fate of the political party which tried to nominate her as its candidate for prime minister. The name of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, was left out of a list prime minister nominees released by the commission on Monday (Feb 11). There are 69 names, including that of current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on the list. “All membe

By The Straits Times
February 12, 2019


South Korea, US ink provisional defense cost-sharing pact

Getting allies to pay ‘their fair share’ has been a major part of President Trump’s rhetoric. South Korea and the United States signed a provisional agreement Sunday on the sharing of costs to maintain US troops here, with South Korea raising its share by 8.2 percent. Seoul’s negotiator, Chang Won-sam, and his US counterpart, Timothy Betts, met in Seoul to ink the contract. Under the new deal, South Korea will pay about 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) to cover the costs of stationing the 28,500 members of US Armed Forces Korea here throughout 2019. The figure reflects the rate of increase of South Korea’s annual defense budget, according to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. Last year, South Korea paid about 960 billion won to its ally for the same purpose.

By The Korea Herald
February 11, 2019


Thailand is headed for another political crisis and it can’t stop itself

Prayuth Chan-ocha may be prime minister after elections but what comes after is much harder. On the 16th of May, 1877, French President Patrice de Mac-Mahon dismissed then Prime Minister Jules Simon and named a successor who was rejected by the house of parliament. Mac-Mahon responded by dissolving parliament unilaterally leading to a constitutional crisis which changed the landscape of French politics until well into the 20th century. Thailand may soon experience something similar.

By Cod Satrusayang
February 11, 2019


200 Myanmar Buddhist flee violence into Bangladesh

The refugees were fleeing from clashes between the central government and a separatist group. Around 200 Buddhists from Myanmar’s Chin state crossed into a remote hilly region of Bandarban’s Ruma on Monday following intensified fighting between Myanmar army and rebel group Arakan Army, officials said. Shamsul Alam, upazila nirbahi officer in Ruma upazila, said members of around 40 Myanmar families took shelter in Cheih Kaying Para under Remakree Prangsha union. The fresh arrival of Myanmar nationals takes place at a time when Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the burden of over a million Rohingya Muslims. Of them, some 750,000 have taken shelter in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar since August 2017 following a military crackdown in Rakhine. Some 1,300 Rohingyas recently fled to the camps from India after allegedly facing abuses and threats in the neighbouring country. Several do

By Daily Star
February 8, 2019


Editorial: Modi’s visit underscores atrocities in Kashmir

An editorial at Dawn takes a look at India Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Kashmir. There couldn’t have been a more apt prelude to Kashmir Day, observed in Pakistan on Feb 5 each year, than the images of the closed-down occupied valley in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit. The land was on a lockdown to ensure smooth passage for the Indian prime minister, who was visiting to monitor development projects. Businesses were closed and internet services on the phone suspended. True to tradition, several well-known Kashmiri leaders were put under house arrest and hundreds of others also taken into custody in the run-up to the trip. Srinagar presented the look of a city besieged by soldiers taking control of the roads. Read more: 

By Dawn
February 6, 2019