Cambodian PM Hun Sen elected ruling party president

Strongman Hun Sen consolidates grip on power after recent death of Chea Sim

Cambodian PM Hun Sen elected ruling party president

By Julia Wallace

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

 The long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has elevated Prime Minister Hun Sen to its presidency, consolidating the strongman’s grip on power within the country.

The party held a special congress Saturday to elect a new leader after the death earlier this month of Chea Sim, who had served in that capacity since 1991.

Before that, both Sim and Hun Sen were high-ranking officials in the Vietnamese-backed Communist government that ruled Cambodia throughout the 1980s.

On Saturday, the CPP’s Central Committee appointed Hun Sen to the position, with 506 out of 507 votes going to him, according to an announcement by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.

The party also elected two new vice presidents, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Say Chhum, who recently replaced Chea Sim as the president of the Senate and has long been a powerful behind-the-scenes figure within the party.

Kheng is a brother-in-law of Sim and was widely seen as a close ally of his within the CPP, working together in their own faction that lay outside the bounds of the extensive patronage network of Hun Sen – who has ruled Cambodia for 30 years.

Both men were last week conferred with “samdech” titles -- elaborate royal titles awarded to a select few politically important commoners including Hun Sen, his wife and Chea Sim -- that were seen as presaging their elevation within the party.

According to state media, party members at the congress “totally agreed with the presentation of Samdech Techo Hun Sen on the general situation and the party’s work in the first semester of 2015, as well as new objectives in the next semester.”

Sim was cremated in a lavish ceremony in Phnom Penh on Friday, with King Norodom Sihamoni in attendance to light the funeral pyre and Hun Sen on hand to give a eulogy.

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