The education and culture ministers, a former military commander-in-chief and an ex-Phnom Penh governor, and the National Police chief were among a crowd of well-wishers taking to social and government-affiliated media to declare their support for prime ministerial heir apparent Hun Manet.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony in Sihanoukville on Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly announced his endorsement of his oldest son Hun Manet to become future prime minister, though Hun Sen emphasized that Manet would need to be elected by the people after standing.
“I declare today to support my son to be the next prime minister but it means nothing without an election. It must be voted on,” Hun Sen said.
Several government officers, ministers, governors, prosecutors, police and military officials and others quickly began expressing their support for Hun Sen’s pick.
The Preah Sihanouk provincial police headquarters announced its support, saying Manet was suitable as a future prime ministerial candidate to lead the country due to his youth and outstanding ability, talent, experience, virtue and leadership.
Those who offered messages of support on government-affiliated Fresh News included Minister for the Council of Ministers Bin Chhin; former RCAF commander-in-chief Pol Saroeun; Interior Ministry secretaries of state Sok Phal, Pav Hamphan, Nuth Sa An and Sak Setha; Border Committee chairman Var Kimhong; vice chair Koy Pisey; Energy Ministry secretary of state Ith Praing; immigration department director Kirth Chantharith; former Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong; Phnom Penh military police commander Rath Sreang; Rural Development Ministry secretary of state Nuon Danhil; lawmaker Cheam Yeap; RCAF deputy commander-in-chief Chhin Chanpor; National Police chief Neth Savoeun; Social Affairs Minister Vong Soth; Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona; former Preah Sihanouk governor Yun Min; Education Minister Hang Chhuon Naron; and navy commander Tea Vinh.
District governors, oknha and university administrators were among others offering their congratulations. Fresh News was flooded with the messages, leaving little room for any other news items.
Members of the judiciary, military and National Police are allowed to be members of political parties but prohibited from political activities under the Political Parties Law.
National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long told VOD on Friday that he fully supports the candidacy of Manet, saying Manet is well-educated, with an education at West Point in the U.S.
“His excellency should be a prime minister in time,” Peng Long said. “He has the ability and popularity to be prime minister.”
He added that it was an appropriate time to make the announcement to end speculation once and for all. He had never met Manet, but knew he was broad-minded and ethical, he said.
“He has a good image in society and I support his candidacy,” he said, noting in particular Manet’s work on Covid-19.
Earlier this year, Manet was put in charge of Covid-19 quarantine efforts, particularly moving patients from the beleaguered Prek Pnov quarantine center to the Great Duke Hotel.
Speculation over Manet succeeding Hun Sen has been years in the making. In 2016 and 2017, he toured the U.S. and Australia, an apparent public relations tour that sparked protests among some Cambodian expatriates.
“If Hun Manet is truly a good guy, he should release those whom his father has thrown in jails,” one protester in Long Beach, California told Voice of America in 2016.
In Australia in 2017, he gave a noncommittal answer in an television interview with ABC when asked about his prime ministerial prospects.
“Not no, not yes,” he told the Australian broadcaster.
“Actually our father has stated many times that he doesn’t want any of his children to follow in politics,” he added, denying he had been groomed for the job.
Manet, who is in his 40s, has received a slew of promotions in recent years: In 2018, he was made a member of the ruling party’s standing committee, according to A.P., and he has risen through the military’s ranks to become deputy commander-in-chief.
Though Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years, has mentioned Manet’s name before as his potential successor, it has heretofore been intermixed with denials.
Currently, the country is without a viable opposition. The main opposition CNRP was dissolved in 2017 after co-founder Kem Sokha was charged with treason, and around 100 of its top officials remain banned from politics.
“For this Kem Sokha case, it is the implementation of law. Previously there was concern that the arrest might weaken the democracy. I think the law was created to protect the national interests and people’s interests. It is not for an individual or a politician,” Manet told Radio France International about the case in 2017.
This week, the CNRP further fissured when Sokha asked his co-founder Sam Rainsy to stop using his name and image in campaigning.
Manet’s wife, Pich Chanmony, is a businesswoman who directs Legend Cinema and a slew of other companies.