Cambodia's Prime Minister-designate Hun Manet
Cambodia's Prime Minister-designate Hun Manet arrives to attend a parliamentary meeting at the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on August 22, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Phnom Penh: Cambodia's new prime minister Hun Manet was groomed for years for the job by his iron-fisted father Hun Sen, and his takeover sees the completion of a dynastic transition long in the making.

Tuesday's unanimous parliamentary vote to install him as PM sees Hun Manet move from the premier's bodyguard unit to the seat of power.

Hun Sen last month announced his resignation, three days after claiming a landslide victory in a one-sided election that the ruling party was guaranteed to win after having silenced all viable opposition.

Hun Manet, already a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party's (CPP) powerful permanent committee, has served as commander of the Royal Cambodian Army since 2018.

Born on October 20, 1977, the princeling graduated from US Military Academy West Point in 1999 and has more recently met world leaders including President Xi Jinping of China - Cambodia's main ally and benefactor.

But the 45-year-old four-star general only contested a parliamentary seat for the first time in July's election, a poll criticised internationally as neither free nor fair.

Raised in luxury

Hun Sen has trailed the handover to his son for a year and a half but he has also made it clear that he intends to wield influence after he steps down, scotching the notion the country could change direction when Hun Manet assumes power.

While Hun Sen's politics are shaped by his experiences of revolution and war as a young man during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, his son was raised in luxury and educated abroad.

Married with two daughters and a son, Hun Manet holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bristol in Britain and was the first Cambodian to graduate from West Point.

He has also served in leadership roles in the ruling CPP's youth movement, his father's bodyguard unit and the counterterrorism special forces.

Higher education abroad is no guarantee of a more liberal approach, exiled politician Sam Rainsy, a longstanding foe of Hun Sen, told AFP last month - pointing to Syria's brutal Assad dynasty.

"Syria's Bashar al-Assad is more educated than Hafez al-Assad, but the son is politically worse than the father," he said.

Sebastian Strangio, author of a book about Hun Sen's rule, told AFP that Hun Manet had shown little sign of having "either the ability or the desire to push Cambodia in the direction of significant reform".

Without his father's backing, it is not clear Hun Manet would be able to make changes even if he wanted to.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said she had little hope of major change.

"Hun Manet is the product of a ruling elite that has turned Cambodia into a de facto one-party state where dissenting voice are not tolerated," she told AFP.