Cambodian leader's eldest son advances in succession stakes

FILE - In this June 12, 2016, file photo, Lt. Gen. Hun Manet, 41-year-old, center, of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the first son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, smiles before the start of the international half-marathon in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Hun Manet has joined the inner circle of his father's ruling Cambodian People's Party, adding weight to speculation that he is being groomed to succeed to the premiership. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The eldest son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has joined the inner circle of his father's ruling Cambodian People's Party, bolstering speculation he is being groomed to succeed to the premiership.

The 41-year-old Lt. Gen. Hun Manet, who is both army commander and deputy armed forces chief, was boosted from the 865-member Central Committee of the ruling Cambodian People's Party to its 37-member Standing Committee, the country's key decision-making body. Six other party loyalists — three deputy prime ministers and three top military commanders — were also selected Thursday to join the top body at a three-day party congress.

Hun Sen has held power for more than three decades, and has often mentioned West Point-educated Hun Manet as his potential successor. Younger son Hun Manit also holds important military posts, while youngest son Hun Many — also considered a possible successor to his 66-year-old father — is a National Assembly member.

Hun Sen's party overwhelmingly won national elections in July, an outcome that was assured when courts last year dissolved the only viable opposition party. His party holds all 125 seats in the National Assembly, which confirmed him unanimously for a new term in office in September.

He has said repeatedly he intends to serve two more five-year terms and has taken multiple steps toward assuring a hereditary transfer of power.

Hun Sen first became prime minister in 1985 in the aftermath of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. He has used a combination of guile and brute force to crush his political rivals during his long career, including a violent coup in 1997.

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