Prime Minister Hun Sen has for the first time publicly suggested that his eldest son, Hun Manet, could succeed him as leader of Cambodia in an interview with Japanese media.
In an interview with the Japanese news agency Kyodo, Hun Sen reportedly said Manet would be a “possible future leader” of Cambodia.
Despite criticism from the international community over his government’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all seats in parliamentary elections in July.
“However, he [Hun Sen] acknowledged that no matter how capable the ... general may be, when the time comes, only the power of the people nationwide could determine who will become their new leader,” Kyodo reported.
The comments follow years of speculation over the possibility of his sons being groomed for the top job.
Lieutenant General Hun Manet is now serving as the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army after he was appointed last month to replace long-time commander Meas Sophea.
Hun Sen’s second son, Hun Manith, is the director-general of military intelligence.
Hun Many, his youngest son, is chairman of the National Assembly’s commission for education and culture, and also leads the Union of Youth Federation of Cambodia, one of the country’s largest pro-government youth organizations.
Many, also a lawmaker, also previously said he wanted to become prime minister.
When asked in a live radio show in late 2015 whether he wanted to become a prime minister, he responded with an indirect answer that the top job was “a dream of every young Cambodian”.
In contrast, his elder brother Manet was tight-lipped when asked the same question in an interview with ABC Australia in 2015. “Not no, not yes,” he said.
The army chief graduated from the West Point Military Academy in the United States. He rose to serve in de facto political roles, rallying support for the ruling party among Cambodian communities abroad.
In April, Manet represented his father during a visit to Japan to secure Tokyo’s support for the election process, which was described by critics as “flawed” and a “sham”.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan the remarks about Manet’s possible future leadership were based on Hun Sen’s "experienced evaluation."
"On a separate note, we have seen His Excellency Hun Manet as a professional in serving as a senior military officer. He was educated in the U.S. and exposed to Western culture and education ... At the same time, he has spent time working in the national defense tasks with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces," Siphan told VOA Khmer on Sunday.
He denied such an appointment as an example of nepotism, adding that candidates would be selected by the CPP.
"For the CPP, we have our norms of working processes in assessing and recruiting any candidates to hold state positions, ranging from minister to prime ministerial jobs."
Political commentator Ly Sreysros said Hun Sen’s backing of his son for the top job was not a surprise, adding that the wording of the statement was likely left deliberately vague.
"I see nothing strange here because the power to lead Cambodia in the future would be transferred by Prime Minister to his son or anyone close to him," Sreysros said.
The political analyst added that Manet's candidacy if realized, would bring the premiership closer to the military given his years of military service.
Correction: Hun Manet is not the Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as previously stated in this article. Manet is now the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, which is a military branch under the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.