Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is celebrating 30 years in power. He is now the sixth-longest serving political leader in the world (in the company of the likes of Mugabe and Khamenei) and is Asia's longest serving non-monarch leader.
To commemorate the anniversary, Human Rights Watch released a report, 30 Years of Hun Sen: Violence, Repression. and Corruption. It charts the man's rise from, at 26, the world's youngest foreign minister, to today (his official title now reads Samdech Akka Moha Sena Pedei Techo, or 'princely exalted supreme great commander of gloriously victorious troops'), and earmarks allegations of corruption, human rights abuse and persecution.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen's Cambodia (a must-read for those wanting to understand the man), remarks of his Houdini-like knack of bending with the winds of change to hold power. On the wrong side of history at the end of the Cold War, Hun Sen waited out the storm and retained power. His deft politicking, a 'blend of threats, charity, and strongman bombast' as Strangio explains, has been his elixir de longue vie. Even his political rival Sam Rainsy concedes 'He is a genius, but a genius for himself'.
Hun Sen's long tenure has been due to his ability to instill fear of the Khmer Rouge (a better-the-devil-you-know tactic) and building a close-knit group of tycoons. His tenure has been supported by what is traditionally a passive populace, derived in part from the country's Buddhist underpinnings.
Yet while he has declared he will rule until 2026, cracks are beginning to show. Recent protests show that younger Cambodians are less swayed by the his threats of a 'return to Pol Pot'. Indeed, many have known no other political power but him. Citizens' grievances with corruption, megaprojects, and poor working conditions, among other things, coupled with the growing penetration of internet and telecoms, has led to rising social mobilisation against him. Last year, in a string of large protests, the winds of change seemed evident.
At 62, it is an open question whether he has more political maneuver in him to withstand these changes.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.