Na­jib, Hun Sen prove be­ing nasty pays off

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ROGER MIT­TON roger­mit­

MIR­ROR, mir­ror on the wall, who’s the bad­dest of them all? In this re­gion, by any yard­stick, it has to be a tie be­tween Cam­bo­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen and his Malaysian coun­ter­part Na­jib Razak.

What a pair of dis­rep­utable ras­cals they are, and be­cause of that, let’s drop the niceties and feel free to point out their un­savoury sim­i­lar­i­ties and how they are po­lit­i­cally and so­cially al­most iden­ti­cal.

To kick off, even just on a per­sonal level, they seem as if cut from the same cloth, or more aptly, hewn from the same bru­tally hard stone.

They are about the same age: Na­jib is 63, Hun Sen 64, and both have dom­i­nant “bat­tleaxe” wives, who are of­ten said to be feared more than their hus­bands.

Na­jib’s bet­ter half, Ros­mah, an ar­che­typal Cruella de Vil, is hard to por­tray ac­cu­rately with­out em­ploy­ing the kind of lan­guage usu­ally found in the more out­landish celebrity tabloids.

An ad­dic­tive shopa­holic with the man­ner and dress sense of a mo­tor­cy­cle momma from the out­back who has just won the lottery, a mere glimpse of Ros­mah makes min­is­ters and gen­er­als dis­creetly slip away to the gents.

How does she do it? Easy. Na­jib is so be­sot­ted by her that Ros­mah’s ev­ery wish is his com­mand and who­ever dis­putes that or crosses her is fin­ished.

It is tempt­ing to say that her only re­gional equal is Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, who is ar­guably even more in­flu­en­tial and cer­tainly more feared.

Any crit­i­cal com­ment about her in­vari­ably kills con­ver­sa­tion dead and elic­its mor­ti­fied looks on the faces of those who know that you don’t mess with the diminu­tive but lethal Madame Hun Sen.

As well as hav­ing wives who de­flect even the most rashly brave-hearted of crit­ics, the two pre­miers are also re­mark­ably alike in that they both owe much of their po­lit­i­cal suc­cess to their im­mense wealth.

It has en­abled them to play the pa­tron­age game and to buy the undy­ing loy­alty of se­nior of­fi­cials, party mem­bers and even closet op­po­nents whose own sta­tus de­pends on their good­will.

Any­one who be­trays that loy­alty has their throat cut, metaphor­i­cally speak­ing, by be­ing de­moted and hav­ing fund­ing cut off to their con­stituency and their re-elec­tion cam­paigns.

Ad­di­tion­ally, both Hun Sen and Na­jib ex­er­cise tremen­dous con­trol over the do­mes­tic me­dia in their re­spec­tive coun­tries and thus sti­fle any crit­i­cism of them­selves and the party they lead.

In Na­jib’s case, it has meant that cov­er­age of Ros­mah’s ti­tanic shop­ping sprees and his own al­leged in­volve­ment with a Mon­go­lian model and her sub­se­quent mur­der have been largely squashed. So too, in an­other odd echo, was the mur­der of one of Hun Sen’s ear­lier mis­tresses, the noted Cam­bo­dian songstress Piseth Pi­lika. Great men get away with this kind of thing and move on.

Just as Na­jib has blithely rid­den out a no­to­ri­ous scan­dal at the Malaysian in­vest­ment fund 1MDB, where even the trans­fer of al­most US$700 mil­lion from the fund into his per­sonal bank ac­count barely caused him to blink.

Like­wise, Hun Sen swat­ted away a re­cent re­port by the in­ter­na­tional watch­dog group Global Wit­ness, which re­vealed “a huge net­work of se­cret deal-mak­ing and nepo­tism that em­anates from the Hun fam­ily and un­der­pins the Cam­bo­dian econ­omy”.

A pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, Kem Ley, dis­cussed this re­port on a ra­dio pro­gram and was mur­dered two days later in broad day­light in the mid­dle of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Of course, Hun Sen was not im­pli­cated.

Both he and Na­jib have be­come im­mune to the most bla­tant rev­e­la­tions of cor­rupt prac­tices, crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, phi­lan­der­ing and other shock­ing mis­be­haviour that would top­ple any other leader.

Press re­ports, watch­dog ex­posés, global con­dem­na­tion, the demise of ri­vals and mis­tresses, and the oc­ca­sional – but quickly sup­pressed – pub­lic protests have not damp­ened the duo’s solid hold on power.

Hun Sen has been top dog in Cam­bo­dia since 1985 and he has made it clear that he has no in­ten­tion of step­ping down soon.

His num­ber-one son, Hun Manit, a lieu­tenant gen­eral who, among other things, com­mands his dad’s bodyguard unit, will al­most cer­tainly take over and need the same unit for him­self.

Com­pared to this, his erst­while twin, Na­jib, is a rel­a­tive new­comer hav­ing only in­her­ited the pre­mier­ship in 2009, but after weath­er­ing two rather fraught elec­tions, he has fi­nally in­stalled his own team.

Pre­vi­ous min­is­ters and party war­lords who’d had the temer­ity to go against him or against Ros­mah have been side­lined, sacked, bankrupted or jailed.

Na­jib, like Hun Sen, takes no pris­on­ers. You go against him, you are toast.

Could th­ese two re­gional rogues ever be de­feated then? Well, al­though not im­pos­si­ble, it is highly un­likely to hap­pen in the near fu­ture.

They are both clever, cun­ning and ruth­less, and most im­por­tantly, they con­trol all the key in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary, the mil­i­tary and the me­dia. The lat­ter is cru­cial be­cause it feeds peo­ple the no­tion that ser­vices like ed­u­ca­tion, health, elec­tric­ity and trans­port are not pro­vided by the state, but by the rul­ing party, or more bluntly, by Hun Sen and Na­jib.

So peo­ple are grate­ful, and de­spite all the curbs and cor­rup­tion, they opt for ser­vices and se­cu­rity over hu­man rights and free­dom.

As a re­sult, our re­gional bad boys, our own Twee­dle­dum and Twee­dledee, con­tinue to hold power and will al­most cer­tainly con­tinue to do so after the next gen­eral elec­tions are held in 2018.

In­deed, it is fair to say that in Cam­bo­dia, l’etat c’est Hun Sen. And that now the same is true in Malaysia: The state is Na­jib.

Photo: EPA

Mourn­ers at­tend the fu­neral of Kem Ley, an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who was shot dead in Phnom Penh on July 10, two days after he went on the ra­dio to dis­cuss a re­port crit­i­cal of Cam­bo­dian Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen.

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