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Cambodia: Ex-dictator Hun Sen returns as chief of Senate

April 3, 2024

Strongmen Hun Sen handed power to his son Hun Manet last year after ruling Cambodia for nearly four decades. Now, the veteran leader is staging a comeback.

Hun Sen applauding at a public event
Hun Sen was elected as Cambodia's Senate head on unanimous voteImage: Heng Sinith/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hun Sen was elected the new head of Cambodia's Senate on Wednesday, taking over a key ceremonial role after handing over executive power to his eldest son last year.

The former dictator remains in charge of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). With most of the CCP's rivals dismantled during Hun Sen 38-year-long rule, the party now controls 55 out of 62 seats in the upper house of Cambodia's parliament.

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Hun Sen thanked the senators for their confidence after the vote, according to a report by National Television of Cambodia cited by China's Xinhua news agency.

He also pledged to "further Cambodia's international diplomacy."

"It is my first time to sit on such a high chair," he said.

In a further sign of his party's dominance, Hun Sen was also backed by the two senators appointed by Cambodia's king as well as the two appointed by the lower house of the Parliament.

Hun Sen to sign laws in king's absence

His new position allows Hun Sen to act as the head of state when King Norodom Sihamon, is overseas. The 70-year-old monarch often travels abroad for health checkups, with his trips occasionally coinciding with the CCP's efforts to pass questionable laws.

The king's absence allows the senate president to sign the bills into law.

While Senate is not Cambodia's most powerful political or legislative body, it serves "as the highest political symbol of the nation," Cambodian political analyst Ou Virak told the AFP news agency.

New cabinet stacked with Hun Sen allies

In addition to Hun Sen now leading the Senate and his son Hun Manet leading the government, otherkey posts in the new cabinet are divided between Hun Sen's relatives or children of his allies.

New Prime Minister Hun Manet shows ink on his finger after voting in July 2023
Hun Sen's son, Hun Manet, leads the government which includes multiple other relatives of Hun Sen and his allies' childrenImage: Heng Sinith/AP/picture alliance/dpa

The CCP also dominated last year's general election, with opposition parties struggling to come up with an effective strategy following a crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP was forcibly dissolved in 2017 on spurious accusations of plotting a coup after positioning itself as the key CCP rival during Hun Sen's rule.

ac/dj (AFP, DW sources)