See More on Facebook

Analysis, News, Politics

Hun Sen’s victory means more of the same for Cambodia

Hun Sen’s electoral victory was marred by controversy but the win signals closer ties between Cambodia and China.


Written by

Updated: July 31, 2018

Cambodian voters went to the polls on Sunday and handed Prime Minister Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-serving leader, another five years in power in a controversial election that many observers deemed a “sham”.

It was a landslide victory. Early estimates indicate that Hun Sen’s party, the Cambodian People’s Party, may in fact have won every single seat in the National Assembly which would mean the country is now, effectively, a single-party state.

The results of the election should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following Cambodian politics for the past year. The only viable opposition party was dissolved by court order in November of 2017, and dissenting voices have been systematically silenced as part of an ongoing crackdown on critical media and civil society.

Former leaders of that opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, had called for a boycott of the election, asking that voters keep a clean finger, a reference to the indelible ink applied to the index finger of those that cast a ballot. What Hun Sen craved most from this election was legitimacy, and a low turnout would have robbed him of that.

Hun Sen, and those that support him, will point to the numbers from election day and claim they equal a mandate. The National Election Commission has reported that around 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots. But that figure belies several key details.

Leading up to the election there were widespread reports of voter intimidation—with bosses telling workers they would be punished if they did not come back to work with an inked finger, and some local authorities reportedly threatening to deny essential government services to election boycotters.

Some reports indicated that Cambodians who felt they had no option but to get their finger inked, would show up to polls only to spoil their ballot. Indeed early statistics indicate that up to 9 percent of the ballots have been counted as spoiled—the ballot crossed out entirely, every box checked, the ballot left empty, etc. In former CNRP strongholds like Phnom Penh that number was even higher. There, 14.4 percent of votes cast were invalid, a huge spike compared to just 0.99 percent in 2013.

In fact, the entity that got the second-most votes after the CPP—and ahead of the 19 other minor parties that were on the ballot—was the “spoiled vote party”.

And since credible third-party observers refused to take part in the process, all this took place under the questionable eyes of what some experts have labeled “zombie election monitors”.

For the people of Cambodia, five more years under Hun will likely bring about an intensification of the status quo. Further limitation on free speech and the free press, economic development that largely benefits the country’s wealthy elite and fails to trickle down to the average Cambodian, and a government that is even less accountable to its citizens.

And for the wider region, it is expected that the next half-decade will see an even closer relationship between Cambodia and China. This election, with all its controversy, has driven the wedge between Cambodia and the United States and Europe even deeper. And Cambodia is expected to be pulled even further into China’s orbit if the country is cut off from the tariff-free access to American and European markets it currently enjoys.

China has not been subtle in its assessment that a Hun Sen victory is in its best interest—the Chinese ambassador was given a prominent position on the stage for at least one CPP campaign rally. He did not attend the rallies of any of the other minor parties on the ballot. Cambodia gets financial support out of this arrangement in the form of loans and investment for large-scale infrastructure projects and China gets a vocal champion for its strategy in the region.

Hun Sen has indicated that these next five years won’t be the end of his rule. In speeches, he says that he intends to stay on as Prime Minister for at least a decade longer. And beyond that, it is expected that he will do everything within his ever-expanding powers to see that the next leader of Cambodia comes from his own family.

The most likely outcome is that he will try to pass the torch to one of his sons, either Hun Many, 35, who currently runs the CPP’s youth wing, or his eldest, Hun Manet, 40, who has risen through the ranks of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and is now a four-star general.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson 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

Analysis, News, Politics

Philippines government says no cheating in mid-term elections

Duterte’s government says left’s defeat was due to its own shortcomings. The loss of senatorial candidates and party-list groups backed by the Left should be a “wake-up call to re-asses their actions,” Malacañang said Wednesday. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued this statement as he dismissed the claim of Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes that the midterm elections were not that credible due to cheating. “We expect the likes of Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes to cry “cheating” and question the ‘Duterte magic’ following the crushing defeat of many left-leaning party-list groups and their candidate for senator, Mr. Neri Colmenares, in this year’s elections,” Panelo said. In a statement, Reyes said the “Duterte magic” was the “use of government resources to favor administration bets, use of the AFP and PNP to target and harass opposition gr


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 16, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Junta loyalists pack Senate in Thailand

The senate will have a key role to play in choosing the next prime minister. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took a major step towards retaining power by naming scores of people it patronises and who are loyal to it as constitutionally endorsed senators. Of the 250 names announced yesterday for the junta-picked Senate, 104 were military or police officers –retired and in service – while other figures included former members of junta-appointed bodies who had served the post-coup regime in the past five years. The move marks an about-turn for the junta, which had pledged to stay away from politics and had come to power promising to cleanse the country of corruption and nepotism. In addition to people from the Armed Forces, the senator list also included family members of junta leaders as well as close aides. The list includes General Pree


By The Nation (Thailand)
May 15, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Duterte drug war ’won’ in 2019 senatorial race

The mid-term votes seem to back Duterte’s government and his policies. President Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war “just won” as administration-backed senatorial candidates are poised to claim victory in the 2019 polls, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday. Locsin said Monday’s vote is seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte’s war on drugs. “The elections were a referendum on Duterte and his war on drugs. He & the war just won,” he said in a Twitter post. He added: “The Senatorial elections were not a referendum in favor of Charter change either, the death penalty, and jailing minors.” He said the public should already “shut up” on the matter as the drug war “goes on.” “So shut the f*** up on that subject everybody. The war goes on,” the foreign secretary said. In the latest update of partial and unofficial tally of vo


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 15, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Philippines sets mid-term election date

The government warns people, groups with ‘sinister plans’ on Election Day. Malacañang on Friday cautioned “those who have sinister plans and evil machinations” in the May 13 midterm elections to stop their scheme or they would be prosecuted. President Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the “stern warning” as he urged “candidates across the political spectrum” to ask their supporters to observe an honest and peaceful elections. He cited that “concerns and apprehensions have been raised by various quarters relative to the conduct of the coming elections” but assured the public that President Rodrigo Duterte “has put in place measures designed to determine if cheating has been committed in the polls.”“We are thus issuing a stern warning to those who have sin


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 13, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Pakistan reaches agreement with IMF

The country will receive $6 billion over 3 years. The technical teams of the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have reached an agreement on a bailout package for Pakistan, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh announced on Sunday. “After months of discussions and negotiations, a staff-level agreement has been reached between Pakistan and the IMF,” he said while speaking on state-run PTV News. Dr Shaikh revealed that Pakistan would receive $6 billion worth of assistance under the IMF programme over a period of three years. He said the staff-level agreement, which must still be approved by the IMF board of directors in Washington, would show that


By Dawn
May 13, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

India’s political parties and their foreign policy platform

Where do India’s major political parties stand on foreign policy issues in Elections 2019. Foreign policy debates have historically been foreign to Indian election campaigns. But photo-ops with international leaders are always welcome because they help burnish the credentials of politicians with the domestic audience. Images of India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru rubbing shoulders with Presidents Sukarno and Nasser of Indonesia and Egypt, respectively, at the Asia-Africa Bandung Conference in 1955 certainly did his image as a world statesman no harm. The television broadcast of his daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, being enveloped in a surprise bear hug by ‘elder brother’ Fidel Castro at the 1983 Non-Aligned Movement Conference in New Delhi, was widely thought to have humanised the otherwise aloof Mrs G for millions in India. In more recent times, Rajiv Gandhi’s


By Ishan Joshi
May 13, 2019