Hun Sen in 2018
|Prime Minister of Cambodia|
|Assumed office |
26 December 1984
Acting until 14 January 1985
|Preceded by||Chan Sy|
|Second Prime Minister of Cambodia|
24 September 1993 – 30 November 1998
|President of the Cambodian People's Party|
|Assumed office |
20 June 2015
|Preceded by||Chea Sim|
|Minister of Foreign Affairs|
|Preceded by||Kong Korm|
|Succeeded by||Hor Namhong|
10 January 1979 – December 1986
|Prime Minister||Pen Sovan|
|Preceded by||Ieng Sary|
|Succeeded by||Kong Korm|
|Member of the National Assembly|
|Assumed office |
14 June 1993
|Constituency||Kampong Cham (1993–1998)|
5 August 1952
Peam Kaoh Sna Commune, Stueng Trang District, Kampong Cham, Cambodia, French Indochina
|Political party||Cambodian People's Party|
|Children||5, including Manet, Manith and Many|
|Awards||Grand Order of National Merit|
|Allegiance|| Khmer Rouge (1970–1977)|
People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1992)
|Branch/service|| Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation|
Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Army
Royal Cambodian Army
|Years of service||1970–1999|
|Commands||Democratic Kampuchea – Eastern Region|
|Battles/wars||Cambodian Civil War (WIA)|
Hun Sen (/ /; Khmer: ហ៊ុន សែន; born 5 August 1952)[a] is a Cambodian politician who has served as the Prime Minister of Cambodia since 1985, the longest-serving head of government of Cambodia, and one of the longest-serving leaders in the world. He is also the president of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and a member of the National Assembly for Kandal. His full honorary title is Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen (Khmer: សម្តេចអគ្គមហាសេនាបតី តេជោ ហ៊ុន សែន; meaning "Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen").
Born Hun Bunal, he changed his name to Hun Sen in 1972, two years after joining the Khmer Rouge as a soldier. He fought for the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian civil war and was a Battalion Commander in Democratic Kampuchea until defecting in 1977 and fighting alongside Vietnamese forces in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. From 1979 to 1986 and again from 1987 to 1990, he served as Cambodia's foreign minister in the Vietnamese occupied government. At age 26, he was also the world's youngest foreign minister.
Hun Sen rose to the premiership in January 1985 when the one-party National Assembly appointed him to succeed Chan Sy, who had died in office in December 1984. He held the position until the 1993 UN-backed elections which resulted in a hung parliament, with opposition party FUNCINPEC winning the majority of votes. Sen refused to accept the result and threatened a secessionist movement. After negotiations with FUNCINPEC, Hun Sen was accepted as Second Prime Minister, serving alongside Norodom Ranariddh until orchestrating a violent 1997 coup which toppled the latter. Since 1998, Hun Sen has led the CPP to consecutive and often contentious election victories, overseeing rapid economic growth and development, but also increasing corruption and human rights violations. After a crackdown on protests in 2013-2014, in 2018 he was elected to a sixth term in a largely unopposed poll after the dissolution of the opposition party, with the CPP winning every seat in the National Assembly. He is currently serving in his sixth term as prime minister in de-facto one party rule.
Hun Sen has been prominent in communist, Marxist-Leninist and now free-market capitalist and national conservative political parties, and although Khmer nationalism has been a consistent trait of all of them, he is thought to lack a core political ideology. In foreign policy, Sen has in recent years strengthened a close diplomatic and economic alliance with China, who have undertaken large scale infrastructure projects and investments in Cambodia under the Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, Sen has frequently criticized Western powers, particularly after warnings or sanctions on Cambodia in response to the CPP's curtailment of civil liberties and has overseen a number of serious disputes with neighboring Thailand and Laos.
He has been described as a "wily operator who destroys his political opponents" by The Sydney Morning Herald and as an authoritarian leader who has assumed power in Cambodia using violence, intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base. Under his government, a number of opposition activists, politicians, environmentalists and human rights workers have been arrested, imprisoned and murdered. Deforestation, forced evictions and land grabbing have also increased. Hun Sen has accumulated considerable personal wealth and highly centralized power within Cambodia, including a personal guard said to rival the country's regular army.
Hun Sen was born on August 5, 1952 in Peam Kaoh Sna, Kampong Cham as Hun Bunal (also called Hun Nal), the third of six children. His father, Hun Neang, was a resident monk in a local Wat in Kampong Cham province before defrocking himself to join the French resistance and marry Hun Sen's mother, Dee Yon, in the 1940s. Hun Neang's paternal grandparents were wealthy landowners of Teochew Chinese heritage. Hun Neang inherited some of his family assets, including several hectares of land, and led a relatively comfortable life until a kidnapping incident forced their family to sell off much of their assets. Hun Nal left his family at the age of 13 to attend a monastic school in Phnom Penh. At the time, he changed his name to Ritthi Sen or simply Sen; his prior given name, Nal, was often a nickname for overweight children.
Military career and entry to politics
When Lon Nol removed Norodom Sihanouk from power in 1970, Sen gave up his education to join the Khmer Rouge following Sihanouk's call to join the insurgency. Sen also claims he was inspired to fight against foreign interference when his hometown of Memot was bombed by U.S. aircraft in Operation Menu. Sen claims he had no political opinions or ideology at the time. As a soldier, he again changed his name, this time to Hun Samrach, to conceal his identity. He changed his name to Hun Sen two years later, saying that the name Hun Samrach had been inauspicious and that he had been wounded several times during the period he had that name. Sen rapidly ascended ranks as a soldier, and fought during the fall of Phnom Penh, becoming injured and being hospitalized for some time and sustaining a permanent eye injury.
In Democratic Kampuchea, Sen served as a Battalion Commander in the Eastern Region, with authority over around 2000 men. The involvement or role of Sen in the Cambodian genocide are unclear, although he denies complicity. Human Rights Watch suggested he may have had a role in a massacre to suppress Cham Muslim unrest in September–October 1975, but Sen has denied this, claiming that he had stopped following orders from the central government by this time. Sen claims he had increasing disagreements with Khmer Rouge authorities in the administration throughout 1975-1977.
In 1977, during internal purges of the Khmer Rouge regime, Hun Sen and his battalion cadres fled to Vietnam. During the Cambodian–Vietnamese War as Vietnam prepared to invade Cambodia, Hun Sen became one of the leaders of the Vietnamese-sponsored rebel army. Following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge regime, Hun Sen was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Vietnamese-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea/State of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) in 1979 at age 26. The Vietnamese-appointed government appointed Sen some authority over the K5 Plan, a Khmer Rouge containment strategy that saw the mass mobilization of civilian labor in constructing barricades and land mines, although the extent of his involvement is unclear.
First appointment as Prime Minister
Hun Sen first rose to the premiership in January 1985 when the one-party National Assembly appointed him to succeed Chan Sy, who had died in office in December 1984. As the de facto leader of Cambodia, in 1985, he was elected as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister. Sen oversaw continuing conflict against several ongoing insurgencies during this period.
Paris Peace Talks and UNTAC (1991-1993)
He held the position of Prime Minister during the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) until the 1993 UN-sponsored elections, which resulted opposition party FUNCINPEC winning the majority of votes with a hung parliament. Hun Sen and his party formally rejected the result. With the support of much of the state apparatus, including the army and police, Hun Sen and his deputy Norodom Chakrapong threatened to lead the secession of seven provinces and CPP-backed forces committed violence against UN and FUNCINPEC forces although Sen distanced himself from the secessionist movement a few days later. UNTAC and FUNCINPEC conceded a unique power sharing agreement with Hun Sen serving as Second Prime Minister alongside First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh.
Conflict with Ranariddh
From January 1996 onwards, Ranariddh's relations with Hun Sen began to show signs of tension. Hun Sen submitted a government circular to reinstate 7 January as a national holiday, the anniversary of Phnom Penh's liberation from the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces. Ranariddh added his signature to the circular, which incurred the ire of Sihanouk and several FUNCINPEC leaders. A few days later, apparently to tone down dissatisfaction from party members, Ranariddh publicly accused the Army of Vietnam of encroaching into the territories of four Cambodian provinces bordering it. As Widyono saw it, Ranariddh intended to test Hun Sen's response to his accusations, of which the latter chose to remain quiet. During a closed-door FUNCINPEC meeting in the later part of January 1996, party members criticised Hun Sen and the CPP for monopolizing government power, and also chided Ranariddh for being too subservient to Hun Sen.At a FUNCINPEC congress in March 1996, Ranariddh expressed unhappiness over his relationship with Hun Sen and the CPP. He likened his position as prime minister, and those of the FUNCINPEC ministers, to "puppets". He also questioned the CPP over their delays in appointing FUNCINPEC local officials as district chiefs. Ranariddh threatened to dissolve the National Assembly before the end of 1996, should FUNCINPEC's concerns remain unresolved. Several FUNCINPEC MPs, including Loy Sim Chheang and Ahmad Yahya, called on Ranariddh to reconcile with Sam Rainsy and work with the newly formed Khmer Nation Party (KNP) in the forthcoming general election. On 27 April Ranariddh, while vacationing in Paris, attended a meeting with Sihanouk, Rainsy, Chakrapong and Sirivudh. A few days later, Sihanouk issued a declaration praising Hun Sen and the CPP, while also stating that FUNCINPEC had no intention of leaving the coalition government. According to Widyono, Sihanouk's statement was an attempt to defuse the tension between Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Hun Sen rejected the king's conciliatory overtures, and responded by publishing several public letters attacking Sihanouk, Ranariddh and FUNCINPEC. At a CPP party meeting on 29 June 1996, Hun Sen chided Ranariddh for not following through on his March threat to leave the coalition government and called him a "real dog". At the same time, Hun Sen urged provincial governors from the CPP not attend Ranariddh's rallies.
In 1997, the coalition became unstable due to tensions between Ranariddh and Hun Sen. FUNCINPEC entered into discussions with the remaining Khmer Rouge rebels (with whom it had been allied against Hun Sen's Vietnamese-backed government during the 1980s), with the aim of absorbing them into its ranks. Such a development would have altered the balance of military power between royalists and the CPP.
In an open letter, Amnesty International condemned the summary execution of FUNCINPEC ministers and the "systematic campaign of arrests and harassment" of political opponents. Thomas Hammarberg, then Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, strongly condemned the coup.
Prime Minister of Cambodia
In the 1998 election, he led the CPP to victory and forming a coalition with FUNCINPEC.
The 2003 Phnom Penh riots resulted in the ransacking of the Thai embassy in Cambodia, following comments made by a Thai soap opera actress, who claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand. Sen called for a boycott of Thai goods and television shows and criticized the actress shortly before the riots. The riots and Sen's response severely damaged Cambodia–Thailand relations. Sen's Thai counterpart Thaksin Shinawatra closed the borders, expelled the Cambodian ambassador and evacuated Thai citizens from Phnom Penh in response. Thaksin also sent a warning to Hun Sen after witness reports suggested the army and police had not intervened until the embassy was destroyed. Sam Rainsy accused Sen of inciting the riot.
The controversial and widely disputed elections of July 2003 resulted in a larger majority in the National Assembly for the CPP, with FUNCINPEC losing seats to the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party. However, the CPP's majority was short of the two thirds constitutionally required for the CPP to form a government alone. This deadlock was overcome when a new CPP-FUNCINPEC coalition was formed in mid-2004, with Norodom Ranariddh chosen to be head of the National Assembly and Hun Sen again becoming sole Prime Minister.
From 2008 to 2013, the Cambodian–Thai border dispute was an ongoing conflict, which on a number of occasions led to fighting between Cambodian and Thai forces. Sen and Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva negotiated a de-escalation on several occasions with the encouragement of ASEAN. Cambodia was granted sovereignty over the Preah Vihear Temple area by a UN court in 2013, ending the dispute.
After the July 2013 general elections both Hun Sen and his opponents Cambodia National Rescue Party claimed victory. In August, Hun Sen continued to pursue his aim of forming a new government. Also in August, in New York, a major, but largely unnoticed, demonstration held in front of the United Nations (UN) on 19 August by Cambodians and Buddhist monks was a crucial prelude to planned mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh later in September 2013 by opposition groups protesting the July 2013 elections and Hun Sen's response. Cambodians in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, with hundreds of Buddhist Monks, peacefully protested in front of the United Nations in New York City in opposition to Hun Sen's deployment of military and security forces in Phnom Phenh and his unwillingness to share political power with opposition groups and seriously address earlier voting fraud and election irregularities from the July 2013 election.
After the 2013 election results, disputed by Hun Sen's opposition, one person was killed and others injured during protests in Cambodia's capital, where a reported 20,000 protesters gathered, some clashing with riot police. Following two weeks of opposition protests, Hun Sen declared that he had been constitutionally elected and would not step down nor hold a new election.
On 7 September 2013, tens of thousands of Cambodians, along with Buddhist monks and opposition groups, including Sam Rainsy's Cambodian National Rescue Party held mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh to protest the 28 July elections results which they claimed were flawed and marred by voting irregularities and potential fraud. The groups asked the United Nations to investigate and claimed that the elections results were not free and fair.
On 3 January 2014, military police opened fire at protesters, killing 4 people and injuring more than 20. The United Nations and US State Department have condemned the violence. US Congressman Ed Royce responded to the report of violence in Cambodia by calling for Hun Sen to step down, saying that the Cambodian people deserve a better leader.
Consolidation of power (2015-present)
On 10 June 2014, Hun Sen made a public appearance and claimed he has no health problems. He warned that if he were to die prematurely, the country would spin out of control and the opposition could expect trouble from the armed forces, saying he is the only person who can control the army.
Following Hun Sen's orders, on 31 January 2017, the National Assembly voted unanimously to abolish the Minority Leader and Majority Leader positions to lessen the opposition party's influence. On 2 February 2017, Hun Sen barred the opposition from questioning some of his government ministers. Furthermore, Hun Sen vowed a constitutional amendment which later saw the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party dissolved. This move led to the surprise resignation of opposition leader Sam Rainsy. The controversial law was passed on 20 February 2017, effectively granting the ruling party the right to dissolve political parties. Opposition leader Kem Sokha was later arrested for treason.
On 30 June 2018, weeks before the parliamentary elections, Hun Sen appointed his second eldest son, Hun Manet, into higher military positions in a bid to prepare his son for the premiership when he retires in politics or dies, effectively solidifying the Hun political dynasty in Cambodia. Hun Sen has also been conducting image campaigns for his son, which he says was born from a 'supernatural' being and therefore, divine or godly. Political experts have said that Hun Sen's campaigns may lead Cambodia to a dynasty similar to Kim Jong-un's family of North Korea. Hun Sen affirmed that his son could become prime minister if elected rather than through direct handover, though he intends to rule until at least 2028. The 2018 elections were dismissed as sham elections by the international community, the opposition party having been dissolved.
According to John D. Ciorciari:
- In 2019, Cambodia saw long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen tighten his grip on power. Economic growth continued, but with rising risks related to a real estate bubble, mounting debt, and yawning social inequality. Externally, Cambodia deepened its dependency on China, insulating the Hun Sen regime in some respects but contributing to new vulnerabilities.
Hun Sen blocked the return of exiled Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders to Cambodia, including Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua, in November 2019. He ordered the military to "attack" them on sight should they return, threatened airlines with legal actions for allowing them to board, deployed thousands of troops to the Thai and Vietnamese borders, and requested other ASEAN leaders arrest them and deport them to Cambodia.
In 2020, the European Union suspended its Everything but Arms preferential trade agreement with Cambodia due to concerns over human rights violations under Hun Sen's government. Sen criticized the move as "biased" and "unfair", including at the United Nations General Assembly in 2020.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hun Sen downplayed the risk of the virus and declined to introduce preventative measures or evacuate Cambodian citizens from Wuhan during the initial outbreak in China. It was widely reported this was in an attempt to show solidarity with China, one of Cambodia's closest diplomatic and economic allies. Hun Sen visited China during the outbreak and offered to visit Wuhan specifically during its lockdown. In February 2020, at a press conference, he criticized the media for sensationalizing the virus, and threatened to expel those present who were wearing masks. Hun Sen was also present to welcome passengers of the MS Westerdam cruise ship to dock in Sihanoukville, after it was turned away from other countries. Cambodia started implementing preventative measures and travel restrictions from March 2020 as the pandemic spread globally.
A new State of Emergency Law prepared in response to COVID-19 granted Hun Sen further powers to restrict movement and assembly, seize private property and enforce quarantine. The new law has been criticised by Amnesty International for curbing human rights.
Corruption and land issues
Hun Sen and his family were estimated to have amassed between US$500 million and US$1 billion by Global Witness in 2016, and a number of allies have also accumulated considerable personal wealth during his tenure.
Hun Sen's government has been responsible for leasing 45% of the total landmass in Cambodia—primarily to foreign investors—in the years 2007–08, threatening more than 150,000 Cambodians with eviction. Parts of the concessions are protected wildlife areas or national parks and have driven deforestation across the country. As of 2015, Cambodia had one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world. The land sales have been perceived by observers as government corruption and have resulted in thousands of citizens being forcibly evicted.
Hun Sen was implicated in corruption related to Cambodia's oil wealth and mineral resources in the Global Witness 2009 report on Cambodia. He and his close associates were accused of carrying out secret negotiations with interested private parties, taking money from those[further explanation needed] who would be granted rights to exploit the country's resources in return. The credibility of this accusation has been challenged by government officials and especially Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself.
Human rights issues
Hun Sen frequently calls for violence against his political opponents during seemingly irrelevant public events, often characterizing this as necessary to maintain peace and stability in Cambodia. In 2017, he said he would be prepared to "eliminate 100 or 200 people" while speaking at commemoration for his defection from the Khmer Rouge. In 2019, as opposition party leaders prepared to return to the country, Sen ordered the military to "attack them wherever you see them—you don’t need arrest warrants at all" while speaking at a graduation ceremony for exceptional high school students in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has placed bans on public gatherings, driven opposition supporters from the site of former protest meetings 'Freedom Park', and deployed riot police to beat protesters and detain union leaders. Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans wrote in an article that Hun Sen's government are "getting away with murder", condemning the killing of five garment factory workers and violence against protesters by security forces in 2014.
Australian politician Julian Hill has repeatedly criticized Sen, his government and family, and called for reform on Australian bilateral relations with Cambodia. In 2018 during a speech in parliament he described Hun Sen as a "dictator" and "thuggish" and called for sanctions on several government officials and Sen's relatives, including his son Hun Manet. He also accused Hun Sen's regime and family of committing crimes and intimidating Australian citizens abroad. Several other Australian politicians have also been highly critical of Sen and his government.
In Cambodia, Hun Sen's core support base is from the majority of the population who reside in the countryside and work in the agricultural sector. He is less popular in urban centers like Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen's leadership has received criticism from various organizations, media and foreign governments for corruption, cronyism, environmental degradation, human rights violations and violence. Hun Sen and his government was once described by former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew as "utterly merciless and ruthless, without humane feelings".
Alleged Vietnamese ties
Some political opponents of Hun Sen have criticized him for alleged ties to Vietnam. Norodom Sihanouk once referred to him as a "one-eyed lackey of the Vietnamese", with Sam Rainsy and members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party later echoing similar sentiments during the 2010s. This is due to his position in the Vietnamese occupied government and prominence in figure in the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea. Hun Sen and his supporters reject such charges, saying that he only represents the Cambodian people. Anti-Vietnamese sentiment and racism is common in Cambodia.
Control of media
Although Cambodia had relatively independent press during and immediately following the UNTAC era, Hun Sen and the CPP have since come to strictly control media in Cambodia. This has more recently encompassed social media, which surpassed traditional media as a news source for Cambodians in 2017.
Television, radio and newspapers
Bayon Television is owned and operated by Hun Mana, Hun Sen's eldest daughter. Apsara TV is joint-owned by Say Sam Al, CPP Minister of Environment and son of Say Chhum, CPP secretary and the son of CPP Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. CTN, CNC and MyTV are all owned by Khmer-Chinese tycoon, Kith Meng.
CPP officials claim that there is no connection between the TV stations and the state. However, CPP lawmaker and official spokesman Cheam Yeap once stated "We pay for that television [coverage] by buying broadcasting hours to show our achievements".
A demand for television and radio licenses was one of 10 opposition requests adopted by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) at its "People’s Congress" in October 2013.
Radio stations were banned from broadcasting Voice of America and Radio Free Asia in August 2017. The country's most prominent independent newspaper Cambodia Daily was closed on September 4, 2017, a day after the main opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested for treason. The Phnom Penh Post, another widely circulated independent newspaper, was sold to a Malaysian investor with ties to Hun Sen in 2018, which undermined its independence and aligned it closer to the government.
Facebook and the internet became widely used in Cambodia during the 2010s. It is thought that its adoption by the Cambodia National Rescue Party played a role in the party's gains in the 2013 election.
In the mid 2010s, Hun Sen and the Cambodian People's Party became enthusiastic users of Facebook. Hun Sen declared in February 2016 they had become an "electronic government" and regularly posts and livestreams speeches, announcements and selfies to million of followers. In 2017, Hun Sen's official page was the eighth-most liked Facebook page of any world leader and as of December 2020 is the most liked Facebook page in Cambodia.
Facebook activity is monitored by authorities, and criticism of the government and Prime Minister on Facebook has led to several arrests in the country. Cambodia has also prosecuted women who post images of themselves wearing revealing clothing on Facebook, Hun Sen saying it is "a violation of culture and tradition" and invites sexual harassment. Amnesty International criticized this speech, characterizing it as "victim blaming" and contributing to violence against women, which is widespread in Cambodia.
Hun Sen is married to Bun Rany. They have 6 children: Kamsot (deceased), Manet, Mana, Manith, Mani and Mali. The couple also adopted a daughter in 1988, but they legally disowned her in 2007 for being lesbian. In 2010, Manet was promoted Major General in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and became the Deputy Commander of the Prime Minister's Body Guard headquarters. All three of Hun Sen's sons play big roles in his government. His older brother, Hun Neng, is a former governor of Kampong Cham and currently a member of parliament.
Although Hun Sen's official birthday is April 4, 1951, his true birth date is August 5, 1952. Hun Sen is fluent in Vietnamese, in addition to his native Khmer. Hun Sen also speaks some English after beginning to learn the language in the 1990s, but usually converses in Khmer through interpreters when giving formal interviews to the English-speaking media.
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| Prime Minister of Cambodia
|New office|| Second Prime Minister of Cambodia
Served alongside: Norodom Ranariddh, Ung Huot
| Prime Minister of Cambodia
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
|Party political offices|
| President of the Cambodian People's Party
|Party political offices|
| Leader of the Cambodian People's Party
| Chairperson of ASEAN
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
| Chairperson of ASEAN