June 22, 2018

Is Cambodia moving towards a one-party military state?

In recent weeks senior military figures have resigned from their posts to run in the July 29 national elections, a move seen to tighten Hun Sen's grip

Long time allies Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) and Sao Sokha shake hands in September 1999. Photo: AFP/Rob Elliott

By David Hutt, @davidhuttjourno| Asia Times, June 20, 2018 

Several senior military officials are preparing to run for Cambodia’s ruling party in next month’s general elections, a move analysts say could militarize the country’s politics and fortify a dynastic transition of the national leadership.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is almost certain to win the July 29 elections after the only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved last November by the Supreme Court.

That move put the country on a path to military-backed one party rule, some analysts believe. In recent weeks, the CPP announced that Pol Saroeun, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), will run for a parliamentary seat in Preah Sihanouk province.

Two deputy RCAF commanders-in-chief, Meas Sophea and Kun Kim, will compete for seats in Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces, respectively.

Chey Son, secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Authority for Chemical Weapons, and Dy Vichea, deputy chief of the National Police and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son-in-law, will also vie for election to the National Assembly.

Many other military candidates are now also eyeing a run as either the CPP’s main or reserve candidate in several other constituencies, according to local media reports.

“By fielding so many military candidates, the CPP can further tighten the nexus between itself and military leaders, giving the latter more of the political pie,” says Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the College of Asean Community Studies at Naresuan University in Thailand.

Those runs could serve a dual purpose for Prime Minister Hun Sen, as electoral rules require military officials to temporarily step down in order to run for office.

This means Hun Sen can “propel his loyalists to higher positions in the military,” Chambers said, referring to the maneuvers as a “secret coup.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) with his West Point-trained son Hun Manet, who many think is being groomed to take over from his father some time after the July 29 elections. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

This was seen last week when Sao Sokha, an aide to Hun Sen dating back to the 1970s, was promoted to acting commander-in-chief while Pol Saroeun runs for office. Sao Sokha will concurrently retain his position as commander of the military police.

More importantly, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son who many think could take over as Prime Minister in the near future, has also been promoted while other senior officers run contest the polls.

While retaining his position as the RCAF’s deputy commander-in-chief, Hun Manet will now also serve as acting chief of the armed forces and acting chief of joint staff. These positions were temporarily vacated by Meas Sophea and Kun Kim.

Hun Manet also maintains his positions as head of the counter-terrorism task force and deputy commander of his father’s private bodyguard unit, the head of which was recently sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for rights abuses.

For decades, the long-ruling CPP has been closely intertwined with the military. The party was formed in the late 1970s by dissident soldiers from the Khmer Rouge who, with the support of Vietnam, overthrew the genocidal regime in 1979.

It was renamed the CPP in 1991 when the United Nations had a transitional authority in the country ahead of a democratic election in 1993 that aimed at national reconciliation after years of debilitating civil war.

While the CPP lost those polls to the rival FUNCINPEC party, it remained in power through a power-sharing arrangement and later re-seized power outright in a bloody 1997 coup.

The CPP has since endeavored to cocoon the military from any notion of political neutrality, promoting CPP loyalists to the top of its hierarchy and consistently allocating the armed forces with ample state funds.

‘No distinction between politics and military’

Chea Dara, a deputy RCAF commander-in-chief, summed up the military elite’s thinking when he said in 2015: “Every soldier is a member of the people’s army and belongs to the CPP because [Hun Sen] is the feeder, caretaker, commander and leader of the army.”

That relationship is now even more inseparable, says Sophal Ear, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles. “There will be no distinction between politics and the military. These are all under the CPP,” he says.

Some analysts see the CPP’s militarization as a gradual process that has accelerated ahead of next month’s pivotal election.

At the beginning of this year, some 300 RCAF officers were promoted, bringing the number of active duty generals to almost 800. At least six of these joined the CPP’s Central Committee, the party’s administrative body which is already stacked with military officials.

Key military generals, including Meas Sophea, also sit on the CPP’s smaller and more influential Permanent Committee.

The number of army officials appointed to provincial political posts, like governors or commune chiefs, has also increased in recent years.

Where all of this heading, and why, is still a matter of conjecture. There has been intense speculation over the past year about whether Hun Sen, perhaps after July’s general election, will step down as premier and hand power to one of his children.

He has said he intends to stay in power for another two five-year terms, but also commented cryptically in March: “If the prime minister of Cambodia is changed, he must come from the [CPP] because only children of an angel would succeed an angel.”

Hun Manet is now the odds-on favorite to take power in any dynastic handover scenario, political analysts say. Stacking the National Assembly with military officials would thus provide for a stable succession as they are already loyal to him as the RCAF’s deputy commander-in-chief.

While Hun Manet is not a National Assembly member and has shown no sign he will run for office, he could become an MP after the election if a military or other parliamentarian agrees to step aside, a common practice in Cambodia’s politics.

Analysts say this is the most likely scenario as it would also dissuade pre-election speculation about a possible dynastic succession, which if common knowledge would likely complicate a ballot already straining with credibility questions.

Hun Manet’s potential rise would also explain why the CPP is trying to expand the military’s control over national institutions. Some note parallels with Thailand and Myanmar, where the military or military appointees are guaranteed a certain number of seats in parliament.

Analysts who think such a development is possible in Cambodia contend that changes could take place after next month’s general election, at which the CPP is almost certain to win most, if not all, the National Assembly’s seats.

The CPP already controls all 58 elected seats in the Senate, Cambodia’s upper house, after elections in February. This means it has carte blanche to push through whatever constitutional changes it desires.

At the same time, there are questions about whether the military is unified in its support of the CPP, analysts say.

Hun Sen (R) with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who some analysts say could become the next prime minister. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

Sam Rainsy, the exiled former president of the CNRP, has in recent months appealed for the support of junior-ranking military officers.

In April, he claimed that many soldiers secretly support the CNRP and voted for the party in last June’s commune election, the last ballot the party contested before its dissolution.

Earlier this year, Sam Rainsy appealed to soldiers to “disobey” if they were ordered to “kill innocent” anti-government, pro-CNRP protestors. The government has since filed incitement charges against the exiled politician.

By ensuring that the CPP’s survival is tied to the military’s hierarchy is both a functional and political move that further blurs the already vague lines between party and state.

It may be a reflection of internal CPP politics, too. Cambodia watchers have long tried to chart factional politics within the CPP, which have become less discernible since the rivalry between Hun Sen and fellow CPP founder Chea Sim ended with the latter’s death in 2015.

Many think Hun Sen now dominates absolutely. But that could change if a CNRP-promoted electoral boycott, the so-called “clean finger” campaign, prompts a low voter turnout next month that raises international criticism of a rigged result, analysts say.

Exiled CNRP leaders think Hun Sen would lose legitimacy among the public and perhaps within the CPP as a result. “No one will recognize Hun Sen and he will lose legitimacy. He will not be able to lead the country anymore,” Sam Rainsy recently wrote on his Facebook page.

One potential intra-party rival, analysts say, is Sar Kheng, a deputy prime minister and interior minister. Though there is not any evidence of splits between the two, some speculate Sar Kheng has taken over the allegiances once commanded by his late brother-in-law, Chea Sim.

Chea Somethy, the youngest son of Chea Sim, is governor of Prey Veng province. Sar Kheng’s son, Sar Sokha, is also a CPP lawmaker for Prey Veng and is married to the eldest daughter of Ke Kim Yan, a former RCAF commander-in-chief and a known Chea Sim loyalist.

In 2009, Ke Kim Yan was replaced as military chief by Hun Sen loyalist Pol Saroeun. But he has regained some prominence since as one of the numerous deputy prime ministers and as chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, an agency under Sar Kheng’s interior ministry.

Jonathan Sutton, a researcher at the National Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, claimed last year that a number of junior-level soldiers remain loyal to Ke Kim Yan.

“Only 30% now genuinely support Hun Sen,” Sutton asserted, based on information provided by a former government insider.

If true, this means intra-party tensions might overlap with military hierarchy jostling. And this could explain why so many army officials, especially those loyal to Hun Sen, are now being positioned to take seats in the National Assembly.


Kim Ea said...

Socialist turn communist hatched up this mono -military power system and used this dirty Throne as a cover up as peaceful nation since 1991 peace agreement . Vietnam ,Sihanouk and Hun Sen with their fascist socialist worked inch at a time behind the scene to re=enforced this monopoly strategic of military take over and control this nation ever since the international democratic community decided to through the faith of this derange trouble nation to the hand of Vietnam plus Sihanouk and Puppet Yuan Hun Sen . Just ignorant Khmer majority only blindly happy with this fake make up treaty to put our Khmer nation destiny under socialist ,communist hand . So don't cried Khmer people you deserved this Kind of trust of your treason king .Now the cycle of fallacious fake politic in the past came back and hound us again , We have so many of fool leaders from opposition party and a bunches of maniacal idiot socialist sympathizer full of power mongering used military style of intimidation and fascist mind infiltrated or run this nation many decades long. They utilized fake traitor King and their family as a smoother mechanism to propel a kind of political hostile to prolong the long lasting Vietnam occupation strategy .

Son Taim said...

YES, Cambodia is moving toward communist country control by Hun Sen and his families.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well...At this stage of the Cambodian political game, AH kook Hun Cent Vietcong slave dictator former Khmer Rouge leader can do whatever he wanted with his stupid political maneuver but for Cambodia as a whole, it is time for a change! Cambodia is a small country with 15 million people with no economic stability, no opportunity for its people, and no credible military threat to its neighbors! Cambodia is being ruled by a useless, ruthless, and mindless dictator who is a puppet of the Vietcong government...but some people say the dictator is turning into the communist
China slave and I won't bet on that! The whole structure of the current Cambodian government is infiltrated by the Vietcong double agents everywhere and anywhere and there is no way the dictator can escape from the Vietcong leader iron grip! Communist China influence in Cambodia only to facilitate the Vietcong leaders take-over of Cambodia. There is a slogan" where there is the Chinese and you will find the Vietnamese. And where you find the Vietnamese and you will find the Chinese!" This is the reality that Cambodian people are facing today the threat of China with over a billion people and Vietnam with almost 100 million people. How can 15 million Cambodian people survive the onslaught of uncontrolled migration from China and Vietnam promoted by AH kook Hun Cent Vietcong salve dictator? Yes...Cambodia can survive and will survive...only if Cambodia is a free democratic country that upholds the rule of law, upholds the right of ownership such as land, upholds the freedom of expression, uphold the right to self-defense against naked aggression by the Vietcong slave dictator corrupt government, uphold the right for Cambodian people to know the true history of Cambodia and if Cambodian people are prevented from understanding true history of Cambodia which is the root cause of the problems and the Cambodian people are condemned to repeat it again and again and again...

Democracy will strengthen the rule of law...and the rule of law will protect the right of ownership...and the right of ownership will protect Cambodia from invisible or visible enemies naked aggression! The democracy will utilize the 15 million brain of Cambodian comparing to one dictator's brain that is controlled by communist China and the Vietcong leaders! The 15 million brain of Cambodian people will be the eyes and ears for Cambodia and sometimes even help point the right direction for the stupid Cambodian government to walk! It is up to Cambodian people whether they want 15 million brains of Cambodian people or they want only one mindless, ruthless, and useless brain of a dictator that is controlled by communist China and the Vietcong leaders! So stay home and win! Don't go to vote!

(Why Cambodian people are so forgetful of their past history and yet they try to understand the present? It is not that Cambodian people are so forgetful because Cambodian people are oppressed people whose leaders are installed by the Vietcong government which rewrite the whole Cambodian history in favor of the Vietcong victory.)

Justic Justice said...

Communists are very lucky to have Hun Sen as their puppet. Exactly as they wanted him to do, to follow their order like a dog and to bark like a mad dog. All he sees is money, power and privilege to be called ‘king or PM of Cambodia’, despite of people approval. People wanting him out, but no, he is still so stubborn, no feeling, no shame.

He rather sees communists taking over her than to step down as told. He made everyone feeling sick to the bone. He is a traitor and a murderer. He lied, cheated, robbed and killed. He is being condemned by all. But still he doesn’t care.

So, it is time for EU, UN and US to step in. Because Cambodians needed them much. To rescue her away from turning into communisism. Plus,if the good do nothing, the evil will win. Cambodia once represented as the holy place, just like Israel and if anyone hurts her, no one can live in peace either. Until then, neither communists and Cambodians can live in peace. Therefore, it is time to kick communists out and to bring back the holy spirits, so that the world would come to an end. Just like what had been happening to Israel now. That the temple belongs to Israel and that the 3rd temple can be rebuilt, to end all wars, for the returning of christ. Wake up people, we are living in the end time.

Just do good and be good, before its too late.