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Cambodia: Hun Sen Takes to Social Media; By Carlyle A. Thayer

CAS article No. 0010/2016

Courtesy: Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, January 7, 2016

Background Briefing:

We requet your assessment of the following issues:

Q1 -In recent months, Hun Sen has become very active on Facebook and launched another App a few days ago. Why has Hun Sen turned his focus to social media? Why has he targeted young people?

ANSWER: Hun Sen must be taking advice to get his act together to win over the youth by engaging them via social media. Sam Rainsy has and continues to use social media effectively and Hun Sen has taken up the challenge. This is pure political theatre.

Q2 - What are Hun Sen’s current fears following 2013 elections?

ANSWER: Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party took a drubbing in the 2013 elections and it was clear that the youth of Cambodia were alienated from his government. Hun Sen is playing the long game to shape and win the next national elections in 2018. Hun Sen fears the revival of mass protests in the streets. He is not only engaging the youth via social media but threatening those who insult him as well.

Q3 - Sam Rainsy is in self-imposed exile now. Is this a game that Hun Sen likes to play?

ANSWER: Hun Sen wants to portray himself as Cambodia’s kingpin. He relishes using the law to undermine if not emasculate Sam Rainsy. This is the third time Sam Rainsy has been forced into exile. Hun Sen is toying with him in the hopes of weakening the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Although Hun Sen has publicly pledged not to ask the King to pardon Sam Rainsy, sometime between now and the 2018 election Sam Rainsy will be allowed to return to Cambodia but on Hun Sen’s terms.

Q4. Many people predict the 2018 election will be the closest ever in Cambodia. What is your assessment?

ANSWER: If the electoral rolls are accurate and up to date, national and international observers are allowed to observe freely the election campaign and the voting, and local officials are prevented from intimidating voters, then the 2018 elections should be a close run one. In 2013 it was clear that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) suffered an electoral setback, how much we will never know. If the same array of forces can contest free and fair elections in 2018 the CPP could be turned out of office.

However, Harold Wilson is often quoted as observing that “a week is a long time in politics.” If that is the case then two years is an eternity politically-speaking. The CPP’s fortunes depend on how effectively it governs Cambodia from now until the elections. But if Hun Sen and the CPP sense they are losing their popular mandate they may resort to repression and violence against the opposition in order to stay in power.

[Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer)]

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