Last week’s declaration by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for the armed forces, led by his son Hun Manet, to “destroy” the already outlawed opposition confirms what many had feared, even as the international community and the United Nations have been generously silent on Hun Sen’s violent words, which have often been translated into lethal action.
It was just a couple of months ago that Hun Sen “promoted” Hun Manet, his eldest son, through a so-called royal decree as chief of the joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of the army’s infantry headquarters, and reportedly as a possible successor to the premiership.
These threats coupled with Hun Manet’s willingness to comply with his father’s dictatorship raise serious questions about whether Cambodian students ought to be granted special scholarships to study in the West.
Cambodia’s heir apparent is not reluctant to follow the path of his father’s dictatorial leadership, even if it means using the armed forces to lock up and kill critics or political opponents. Despite Manet’s Western qualifications, his decision to sustain Hun Sen’s dictatorship is certain to solidify.
In fact, after the arrest in September 2017 of opposition leader Kem Sokha, whose Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved two months later, Manet justified the arrest by claiming that “the law did not target the opposition, but was created to protect the nation.”
If a US Military Academy graduate like Manet, also holder of a doctorate from the University of Bristol in the UK, is willing to be a top figure in his father’s regime, the question is, should the West be a breeding ground for Cambodia’s dictators-in-waiting?
Had the UN condemned Hun Sen’s latest threat, it would have sent a strong message to Manet that the international community will not tolerate the lessons that his father taught Cambodia’s dictator-in-waiting.
Failing that, Cambodia will continue to be subjected to generational dictatorship. The scale of suffering is no different to that of the former regime of Pol Pot.
Hun Manet commands faux armed forces
As Cambodia has transformed from a state of decaying democracy to a totalitarian state, Hun Manet is the product of his father’s regime – legitimized by the UN and the international community.
Using the monarchy, the judicial system and the so-called armed forces only for the ruling party in the name of “the nation” to dilute democratic principles and human rights guaranteed under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords must be condemned and rejected.
Hun Sen’s latest threats were made after speculations of the impending return from exile of Sam Rainsy, the founder of the now dissolved CNRP. Sam Rainsy is the only threat to Hun Sen’s legacy.
Cambodia’s armed forces claim to be ready to participate in international drills and UN peacekeeping forces, but in reality, the military is a thuggish force whose official ranks can be bought and given to celebrities or whoever offers allegiance aimed at crushing the opponents of Hun Sen’s regime. Hun Sen does not hide his agenda to use every apparatus to kill all of the fundamental principles enshrined for Cambodians under the Paris Accords.
As Hun Sen recently said, “Even if you are the mother or the father of the king, if I want to do it, I will do it. I can handcuff an opposition-party leader in the middle of the night easily. You should know who Hun Sen is.”
Hun Manet a wasted alumnus of West Point
Manet’s imminent rise to be Cambodia’s next dictator will no doubt create history for the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the University of Bristol. There has been no known former alumnus of these institutions who rose to be a dictator-in-waiting.
Most aspiring leaders would have used their West Point training to keep their country free from dictatorship. Indeed, on its website, the US Military Academy lists four development programs, which Hun Manet would have learned: “Cadets learn to live honorably, lead honorably, and demonstrate excellence by following through the Character, Academic, Physical, and Military programs.”
Using threats and military forces dictated by his father to crush his fellow Cambodians is certainly not “leading honorably.”
Instead of using his overseas qualifications to improve Cambodia, Manet follows his father’s dictatorship. For instance, during his first overseas trip to radicalize and indoctrinate political followers, Manet was met with protesters. His efforts to carry Hun Sen’s message of “national conciliation, unity and stability” was labeled as “leaving behind a community seemingly more divided than ever.”
If those living in Cambodia were free of his father’s threats, Manet would not stand a chance. Instead of standing up for human rights and democratic reform coupled with his distinguish qualifications, which would see him writing a new history chapter for Cambodia, Manet chooses the hands-on experience of a daddy-dictator.
Bearing the hallmarks of the son of a dictator, Manet issued this threat in 2016 after returning from Australia during one his political recruitment trips: “But do not forget that there [were] a lot of people joining in and supporting [my visit]. Don’t forget that the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] has forces – but we don’t use them.”
Manet even went on to use the same language as his father. Anyone who aspires to use the democratic rights and guaranteed under the Paris Peace Accords was labelled by Manet as participating in a “color revolution.”
If Manet genuinely paid attention during his 47-month stay at West Point, he would have realized that a “color revolution” is not against the law for a country that is supposed to adopt a liberal democratic system.
Manet’s overseas drive was an attempt to break into the Cambodian diaspora residing overseas whose tendency is to support the opposition party that was banned by his father in November 2017.
In 2016, Manet was asked if his trip to Australia was as leader of the CPP’s “counter-efforts at outreach in countries like Australia, the US and France,” he “denied that was his intent on the trip.”
Like his father, Manet has shown a wicked side, such as when he spoke to Australia’s media, in 2016, denying his aspiration to be the next prime minister, claiming his mission was purely “humanitarian.”
As it turned out, a recent report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network showed Manet electrifying his supporters as he successfully “created a force” during a political recruitment campaign in Sydney.
Still, Hun Manet must be given some credit when he said in 2016: “Wherever I go, there is always hate.”
One thing that the West Point academy would have taught is that “to hate is not a crime” and that the military should not be used to kill protesters for “hating” their leaders. But why would anyone not hate dictatorship – especially if an aspiring leader who has had the opportunity of being trained at West Point joins with the father to destroy his opponents?
Given that there are strong signs that Cambodian students aim to be accepted as an elite and powerful class and would do anything to serve Hun Sen and his family, Western governments ought to revise their scholarship programs such that their institutions are not breeding grounds for Cambodia’s dictators-in-waiting.