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

The Afghan prism in Pakistan – US relations

Despite their best efforts, the Afghan question still clouds US – Pakistan relations. Despite the Indian media’s assumptions of a US strategic volte-face, Islamabad would do well to acknowledge that the Trump administration still views its relations with Pakistan largely through the prism of Afghanistan. President Donald Trump’s desire for an early end to America’s longest war is the principal reason for his invitation to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Pakistan has played a key role in facilitating the Afghan peace process and the US-Taliban talks. These have reportedly made encouraging progress over the past few months. An agreement on the withdrawal of US-Nato troops has evidently been reached between the US and the Afghan Taliban, although no timetable for the withdrawal has been finalised and it is not clear if the troop withdrawal would be commenced before, during or after a political settlement i


By Dawn
July 21, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Ruling bloc set to keep majority in Japan

The move has significant impact on any attempts to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are set to win the majority of the 124 seats up for grabs in the House of Councillors election, according to tallies by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sunday night after polls closed at 8 p.m. The ruling bloc is expected to maintain its majority in the 245-member upper house, taking into account the 70 seats it holds that were not up for election this year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on the verge of securing his sixth successive national election victory, is expected to move forward on issues concerning the consumption tax rate hike and the amending of the Constitution. Abe’s current term as LDP president expires in September 2021. Some LDP members were concerned that the Abe administration wo


By The Japan News
July 21, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Pro-independence group forms political party in Taiwan

The move will unlikely improve cross strait relations. The pro-independence Formosa Alliance formed a political party on July 20, saying that it hoped to field at least 10 candidates in the legislative election next January and give independence-leaning voters an alternative to the current ruling party. The Formosa Alliance will not compete in the 2020 presidential election, said Lo Jen-kuei, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, who was elected chairman of the new party. He said the Formosa Alliance was formed not out of dissatisfaction with the performance of President Tsai Ing-wen but rather to give pro-independence voters a choice other than her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In fact, Lo said, it would be a blessing for the Taiwanese people if the DPP won the 2020 presidential election. He said he hoped to see Tsai team up with former Premier William Lai on the DPP pres


By Asia News Network
July 21, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Dozens die in suspected arson at animation studio in Kyoto

The perpetrator has been arrested. More than two dozen people died when a fire, possibly caused by arson, broke out at a studio managed by animation production company Kyoto Animation Co. in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, on Thursday morning. The Kyoto city fire department initially confirmed that one person had died, but dozens were later found in cardiac arrest inside the three-story building. The Kyoto Prefectural Police later confirmed that 25 people had died. According to the fire department, a nearby resident made an emergency call at about 10:35 a.m., saying they had heard the sound of an explosion. Officials of the prefectural police rushed to the studio and found a man, 41, on a road near the studio. The man told them, “I sprinkled liquid on the first floor and set it on fire.”


By The Japan News
July 19, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

India, Pakistan both claim victory on ICJ spy case

Though there was only one ICJ verdict both countries have claimed victory. The International Court of Justice, the top United Nations Court, on Wednesday ruled that Pakistan had violated international law by denying consular access to Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav. The ICJ also ordered that Pakistan review the death penalty it handed down to Jadhav for spying. Jadhav was arrested in a restive Pakistan province in 2016 that is home to a simmering insurgency which Pakistan blames on India. India says that Jadhav was kidnapped by Pakistan agents while he was in Iran. In 2017, Jadhav was sentenced to death by a military tribunal. The ICJ ruled that Pakistan in this instance failed to inform the navy officer of his right and was breaking international law when it failed to allow consular access to the imprisoned man. Despite the verdict, both India and Pakistan have claimed victory in t


By Cod Satrusayang
July 18, 2019

Analysis, News, Politics

Civilian rule officially restored as King swears in Prayut II govt

The government is made up of many of the same advisors and ministers as the previous military government. The new Prayut Chan-o-cha government was sworn in on Tuesday during a ceremony overseen by His Majesty the King, signalling the return of civilian rule after five years following the military coup in 2014. The ceremony took place at 6pm in the Amphorn Satharn Throne Hall, where all 36 ministers were present. In a break with tradition, however, television cameras were not on hand to record the event. The historic occasion marked the first time that HM the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua, as head of state, together with Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, has overseen the advent of a new government – the King’s first event of such kind after his Coronation in May. Also new was the venue for the ceremony, which has previously been held in the


By Cod Satrusayang
July 17, 2019