Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen. He will hand power to his son later this month, after rigged elections. Credit: Shutterstock.
  • by Kris Janssens (phnom penh)
  • Inter Press Service

What do you expect, he’s in the military!” My fellow journalist is quite firm when I ask her what she thinks about the prime minister-designate of Cambodia. We sit in her favourite coffee shop near the royal palace in the capital city Phnom Penh, where we occasionally meet to discuss political issues.

Little alternative

She doesn’t think Hun Manet (45), who will become the country’s next leader on August 22, will change the system. Not only because he is an army chief, but also because she thinks father Hun Sen (71) will continue to play an important role behind the scenes till his very last day.

“Until then, the son cannot possibly tackle the widespread corruption, even if he wanted to,” she says, referring to a story about children of party officials who are on the payrolls of ministries without actually working there.

My colleague has been living in Cambodia since the late 1990s and she knows that there’s little alternative. If the current rulers were to disappear today, the lights would go out in this country. Literally, because the prime minister’s family also owns the only electricity company.

The dynastic succession from father to son raised more eyebrows among foreign observers than among Cambodian citizens. In recent decades, they have mainly been busy rebuilding their country after the devastating Khmer Rouge period and the turbulent 1980s.

Hun Sen’s CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) has ruled the country since the late 1970s and has declared a landslide victory after last month’s national elections. This wasn’t a surprise, as all significant opponents had been eliminated in advance.

A game of thrones

In neighboring Thailand, the opposition was allowed to participate in recent elections. In May this year, the reformist and anti-junta Move Forward Party (MFP) even became the largest party. But leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed to gather enough support from the military-appointed senators to become prime minister.

Limjaroenrat is even suspended as a member of parliament for allegedly violating electoral rules. The new prime minister will be a candidate from the second largest group in Parliament, Pheu Thai. This is the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (74), who has been living in exile for fifteen years to escape convictions and will now return to Thailand.

“So it’s confirmed”, writes political journalist and Thailand expert Andrew MacGregor Marshall on his X-account (formerly Twitter).

“(King) Vajiralongkorn and Thaksin have done a deal (…) to pardon Thaksin if he keeps MFP out of power”

A history of coups

Thailand has a history of successive military coups, each time overthrowing civilian governments. The last one was in 2014 when outgoing Prime Minister Prayut took power. Five years later, he was able to stay in office as prime minister after doubtful elections. Future Forward, the predecessor of MFP, was sidelined.

But unlike the Cambodians, the Thai people are not easily lectured by an old power elite. In 2020, student protests grew into national anti-establishment demonstrations. For the first time, the monarchy was also openly questioned.

King Vajiralongkorn, who inherited the throne from his popular father Bhumibol in 2016, is accused of rapidly gaining powers never possessed by his predecessor. However, Thailand has strict laws against lese-majeste and several students were sentenced to prison for participating in these (peaceful) demonstrations.

Behind the scenes

Last month, dissatisfied MFP supporters gathered in the streets of Bangkok to express their anger. More protest is to be expected. In an opinion article for ‘Bangkok Post’, political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak says the voter has little to say, while the real political game takes place behind the scenes. He is referring to the Constitutional Court, which can easily eliminate (opposition) parties.

“The commotion and seeming chaos among political parties and politicians, in contrast to the appointed agencies and established centres of power, has been used to discredit and weaken democratic institutions”, he writes.

Same story in 2017 in Cambodia, where the Supreme Court outlawed the opposition party CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party). For this year’s ballot, political opponent Candle Light Party (CLP, the successor to CNRP) was simply disqualified. According to the election committee, “the party failed to submit a copy of the original party registration”.

Nation’s biggest asset

Meanwhile, in the coffee bar in Phnom Penh, we are finishing our coffees. The prediction about father Hun Sen’s interference seems to be accurate. In a recent speech, the outgoing prime minister hit out at election critics in the EU and the US. “Democracy has won,” he said. He called the family transfer of power “needed to ensure peace in the country and to prevent bloodshed”.

This has always been Hun Sen’s strategy. Emphasizing he has brought peace and stability after the turbulent Khmer Rouge era, while mildly pampering the middle class to avoid any uprising. According to his successor, who also held a post-election speech, “the nation’s biggest asset is its human resources”.

It is promising that the new leader recognizes the opportunities (but also the challenges) of his very young population, with a median age of 25 years well below the global average. Hopefully this Hun Manet will give Cambodian politics a more human face, even though he is ‘the son of his father’.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Nate Silver, the pollster and burrito enthusiast of FiveThirtyEight fame, played in the Main Event of the 2023 World Series of Poker. Silver was knocked out on Day 6 on a fairly brutal hand that he really stood no hope of surviving once he flopped a set.

Silver saw a flop along with World Poker Tour personality Tony Dunst and Henry Chan, who does not appear to have an online presence. All three had a pocket pair with Silver flopping a set of 6’s, Chan flopping 7’s and Dunst missing the board completely. Dunst quickly made his way out of the hand and Silver ended up all in and staring at some cold hard numbers predicting little chance of success. In the words of Norman Chad, “No fancy math here, just one out.”

According to Newsweek, Silver earned $92,600 for his finish, which would have him finishing in 80-somethingth place, which is pretty impressive. While it’s far from the $12.1 million the winner will receive, it’s a decent return on a $10,000 investment. It can be hard to last six hours into a poker tournament. Making it to the sixth day is a accomplishment, no matter what the prediction models say.

Martin Kabrhel, a professional poker player, has been accused of cheating at the World Series of Poker. Kabrhel finished third in the $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller No-Limit event on Sunday, but has drawn cheating accusations because of a couple incidents at the final table. The WSOP is investigating.

Kabrhel, from the Czech Republic, turned heads with a very questionable call that would knock out Dan Smith in sixth place. Kabrhel raised and then Smith re-raised all-in. Kabrhel thought about it briefly and then called with 10-6 suited, whch is a garbage hand, but he flopped a six and Smith and his A-Q never recovered.

Smith couldn’t believe it. As he took off his microphone he said, “Good luck to most of you. I hope you get barred.” He then added, “Your antics are the worst of anybody I’ve ever played with,” before walking off.

Earlier in the evening, Kabrhel annoyed his fellow players by standing up during a hand, which they were told they could not do. Kabrhel was spoken to about standing and protested, saying he was just looking to see someone’s stack.

As news of Kabrhel’s performance spread, some pros – including Phil Helmuth – took to Twitter to complain about him.

Kabrhel defended himself in a Twitter thread saying, “You can accuse me of controversial manners, bad jokes, uncomfortable play, or whatever stickers you put on my autistic behavior, you can call me pain in the a** but calling me a cheater is something completely out of line.”

This is not the first time we’ve seen someone accused of cheating after getting involved in a large pot with an objectively bad hand, but this time it came with fellow pros making specific cheating allegations.

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