Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen should stand down

“It is untenable for Hun Sen to continue to be Prime Minister.”

Theary Seng, founding President of Center for Cambodian Civil Education.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is the Darth Vader of Cambodian politics. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is Luke Skywalker.

Hun Sen, an old-fashioned 20th C dictator in the Mugabe mold, represents a discredited past. Rainsy, a 21st C democrat, represents the hope that democracy could flourish soon in Cambodia.

Hun Sen’s style of government necessitates intimidation, the jailing of critics and opposition party members,  tanks, razor wire barricades and a 10,000 strong personal body guard armed with state of the art weaponry. 

Rainsy’s, a pacifist, is committed to the rule of law; to adhering to the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box. His bodyguards carry no weapons.

Hun Sen’s Camodian People’s Party has been in power for 28 years now but the Cambodian people have made it clear that they have had enough of him.  This is clear from the election results that saw Sam Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party come close to winning the elections - despite the massive ‘irregularities’ that saw up to one third of Cambodians robbed of their votes.

As the political stalemate continues, Theary Seng – a brave and vocal opponent of Hun Sen’s dictatorial style for many years - has written eloquently of the path that Hun Sen could pursue now for the good of the nation and to secure himself a place in history:

It is in Hun Sen’s long term personal interest for himself and his future generations to step down. The natural inclination is for Hun Sen to continue with the defensive reaction. After all, he has been accustomed to 28 years of unrestrained dictatorial power. But he and the CPP must ask themselves, does it serve their interests.

I am banking on an enlightened moment of wisdom for Hun Sen: he acts proactively and steps down ‘voluntarily’. Just think of the consequences which we know would naturally flow: in one deft, difficult, surprise move, Hun Sen instantly transforms himself into a statesman, an icon. In the annals of world history. The front page headlines of every newspaper in the world would herald the transformation: Former Khmer Rouge, Cambodia Strongman Steps Down

Theary Seng’s advice to Hun Sen can be found in full at:


As an Australian, I hope that our new Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop, takes a strong and principled stand and insists, in appropriately diplomatic terms, that Hun Sen either (a) agree to an independent investigation into the voting irregularities or (b) consider stepping down as Prime Minster now that it is clear that the Cambodian people no longer want him running the country in a way that allows land-grabbing, illegal evictions and other acts of human rights abuse to continue.

Australia’s more than $75 million in foreign aid may not give Julie Bishop much bargaining power but if she were to convince a coalition of other International Donor Countries to put pressure on Hun Sen she could establish her credentials as a woman of principle who will not be cowed by dictators such as Hun Sen in order to safeguard Australian investment in this much exploited country.

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