As the formalities of the 2018 Cambodian election begun to filter through the international news outlets, the expected result of Hun Sen maintaining power and entering his 33rd year of leadership of the Kingdom was confirmed.
Many believe the result was determined in 2016 when the Cambodian political activist, Kem Ley was gunned down outside a Phnom Penh service station. His funeral attracting over two million mourners and forcing his immediate family into seeking refuge in Australia. With the subsequent dissolving of the main opposition the CNRP (Cambodian National Rescue Party) and the exiling of its key party leaders, the result was put beyond doubt.
To many outsiders who haven’t spent time in Cambodia, it may seem bizarre that a country would wilfully choose to re-elect Hun Sen a man with known ties to the Khmer Rouge and involved in blatant electoral abuse. However, the genuine fear of Hun Sen and the far reaching tentacles they believe he and his ruling party the Cambodian People’s Party have is real.
This fear became evident after a night drinking in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, myself and few fellow Australia expats begun discussing the upcoming election. With talk of the recent dissolving of the previously mentioned CNRP, one rather intoxicated Australian loudly stated “I fucking hate Hun Sen!” Resulting in the local bar owner running over to the man and begging for him to keep his voice down and not refer to anymore Cambodian politics.
The reason given with a few sideways glances and whispering in broken English, “Hun Sen has eyes and ears everywhere – you never know who your sitting next too.”A belief that of course is absurd to the four of us drinking 50cent beers at a local dive bar in the back streets of Siem Reap. However, the saying that ‘perception is reality’ was all too evident in this young bar owners mind.
With citizens not back to the polls again until 2023, these five years to the next election could prove defining for Cambodia’s next 50. However, with the insatiable rise of China and the waning influence of the democratic systems in Asia, it may even be it’s last.