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It could have been any Sunday morning in Phnom Penh. Motodops hustled, food cart vendors hawked, homeless kids scrounged, women cooked and gossiped, men gambled and gossiped. The sun was out but there was a storm on the way. Standard. There was just the small matter of the razor wire everywhere. And the soldiers.
Cambodia will go to the polls on Sunday after what looks like being the most peaceful and relatively straightforward election campaign the troubled Southeast Asian nation has ever seen. But by no means is this a sign the country’s “strongman” Prime Minister Hun Sen is relaxing his grip on power. Quite the opposite.
Ruthless and wily, Hun Sen is a classic – almost Bond-esque – villain. A former Khmer Rouge commander who lost his left eye to shrapnel during the battle for Phnom Penh in 1975, he defected to Vietnam two years later when it looked like he might become a victim of the genocidal regime’s murderous paranoia – then marched back in with the Vietnamese as they booted Pol Pot out of the capital in 1979. He was installed by the Vietnamese as prime minister in 1985 and has ruled the country with a lock-jaw grip on power ever since.
Now nearly 30 years later and Asia’s longest-surviving prime minister, Hun Sen remains happily ensconced in his multi-million-dollar mansion, complete with a helipad on the roof and located on the most prominent corner in Phnom Penh, and says he is determined to remain in situ for at least another decade or so. For the good of the country.