Hun Sen rose to the premiership in January 1985 when the one-party National Assembly appointed him to succeed Chan Sy who had died in office in December 1984. He held the position until the 1993 UN-backed elections, which resulted in a hung parliament. After contentious negotiations with the FUNCINPEC, Hun Sen was accepted as Second Prime Minister, serving alongside Norodom Ranariddh until a 1997 coup which toppled the latter. Ung Huot was then selected to succeed Ranariddh. In the 1998 election, he led the CPP to victory but had to form a coalition government with FUNCINPEC. Hun Sen has since led the CPP to victory consecutively, and is currently serving in his fifth prime ministerial term. In June 2015, following the death of Chea Sim, Hun Sen was elected president of the CPP.
Hun Sen was 32 years old when he became prime minister, making him at that time the world's youngest head of government. One of the world's longest-serving leaders, he has been described as a 'wily operator who destroys his political opponents', or as a dictator who has assumed authoritarian power in Cambodia using violence, intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base. Hun Sen has accumulated highly centralized power in Cambodia, including a personal guard said to have capabilities rivalling those of the country's regular army. The former Khmer Rouge commander has consolidated his grip on power through a web of patronage and military force'.
Hun Sen was born in Kampong Cham as Hun Bunal, the third of six children in a peasant family. His father, Hun Neang, was a resident monk in a local Wat in Kampong Cham province before defrocking himself to join the French resistance and married Hun Sen's mother, Dee Yon, in the 1940s. Hun Neang's paternal grandparents were wealthy landowners of Teochew Chinese heritage. Hun Neang inherited some of his family assets and led a relatively comfortable life, as they owned several hectares of land until a kidnapping incident forced their family to sell off much of their assets. Hun Sen left his family at the age of 13 to attend a monastic school in Phnom Penh. When Lon Nol usurped power from Sihanouk in 1970 during a bloodless coup, Hun Nal gave up his education to join the Khmer Rouge. Two years later, Hun Nal changed his name to Hun Sen.
Hun Sen came to power with the Khmer Rouge and served as a Battalion Commander in the Eastern Region of Democratic Kampuchea (the state name during the Khmer Rouge government). In 1977, during internal purges of the Khmer Rouge regime, Hun Sen and his battalion cadres fled to Vietnam.
Hun Sen became one of the leaders of the rebel army and government that the Vietnamese government sponsored when they prepared to invade Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge regime was defeated, Hun Sen was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Vietnamese-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea/State of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) in 1979. As the de facto leader of Cambodia, in 1985, he was elected as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister, after the death of Chan Sy. As Foreign Minister and then Prime Minister, Hun Sen played a pivotal role in the 1991 Paris Peace Talks, which brokered peace in Cambodia. During this period Prince Norodom Sihanouk referred to him as a "one eyed lackey of the Vietnamese".
In 1987, Amnesty International accused Hun Sen's government of torture of thousands of political prisoners using "electric shocks, hot irons and near-suffocation with plastic bags."
After the UN monitored elections he refused to step down from the post and negotiated a transitional government agreement that allowed him to remain as co-prime minister but he retained the chairmanship of the CPP. From 1993 until 1998 he was Co-Prime Minister with Prince Norodom Ranariddh. In 1997, the coalition was shaken by tensions between Ranariddh and Hun Sen. FUNCINPEC began to discuss with the remaining Khmer Rouge rebels (with whom it had been allied against Hun Sen's Vietnamese-backed government during the 1980s), with the aim of absorbing them into its ranks. Such a rallying would have rebalanced the military power between royalists and the CPP.
In response, Hun Sen launched the 1997 Cambodian Coup, replacing Ranariddh with Ung Hout as the First Prime Minister and maintaining his position as the Second Prime Minister, a situation which lasted until the CPP's victory in the 1998 election, after which he became the country's sole Prime Minister. During that year the media broadcast him as the Strong Man of Cambodia which he later said was premature, and that the July 1997 coup was merely the government taking action against the paramilitary anarchy that was sponsored and brought to Phnom Penh by Norodom Ranariddh. In an open letter, Amnesty International condemned the summary execution of FUNCINPEC ministers and the "systematic campaign of arrests and harassment" of political opponents.
On 6 May 2013, Hun Sen declared his intention to rule Cambodia until he is 74.
The controversial and widely disputed elections of July 2003 resulted in a larger majority in the National Assembly for the CPP, with FUNCINPEC losing seats to the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party. However, CPP's majority was short of the two thirds constitutionally required for the CPP to form a government alone. This deadlock was overcome and a new CPP-FUNCINPEC coalition was formed in mid-2004, when Norodom Ranariddh was chosen to be head of the National Assembly and Hun Sen became again sole Prime Minister.
In August 2013, Hun Sen announced he would continue with his aim to form a new government, even if the main opposition tried to block the process. The news came after both sides claimed victory in the 2013 general elections. Also in August, in New York, a major, but largely unnoticed, demonstration held in front of the United Nations (UN) on 19 August by Cambodians and Buddhist monks was a crucial prelude to planned mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh later in September 2013 by opposition groups protesting the July elections and Hun Sen's response. Cambodians in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, joining hundreds of Buddhist Monks, to peacefully protest in front of the United Nations in New York City in opposition to Hun Sen's deployment of tanks and military and security forces in Phnom Phenh and what they believed was his unwillingness to share political power with opposition groups and seriously address earlier voting fraud and election irregularities from the July 2013 election.
After the 2013 election results, disputed by Hun Sen's opposition, one person was killed and others injured during protests in Cambodia's capital, where a reported 20,000 protesters gathered, some clashing with riot police. Following the opposition's two weeks in a row protests, in response, Hun Sen declares he will not step down from his position, nor will there be a re-election; further adding he was elected constitutionally.
On 7 September 2013, tens of thousands of Cambodians, along with Buddhist monks and opposition groups, including Sam Rainsy's Cambodian National Rescue Party held mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh to protest the 28 July elections results which they claimed were flawed and marred by voting irregularities and potential fraud. The groups asked the United Nations to investigate and claimed that the elections results were not free and fair.
On 3 January 2014, military police open fired at protesters, killing 4 people and injuring more than 20. The United Nations and US State Department have condemned the violence. US Congressman Ed Royce responded to the report of violence in Cambodia by calling for Hun Sen to step down and said the Cambodian people deserve a better leader.
On 10 June 2014, Hun Sen made a public appearance and claimed he has no health problems. He warned that if he were to die prematurely, the country would spin out of control and the opposition could expect trouble from the armed forces, saying he is the only person who can control the army.
In November 2016, Hun Sen publicly endorsed US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who went on to be elected president.
Following Hun Sen's orders, on 31 January 2017, the National Assembly voted unanimously to abolish the Minority Leader and Majority Leader positions to lessen the opposition party's influence. On 2 February 2017, Hun Sen barred the opposition from questioning some of his government ministers. Furthermore, Hun Sen vowed a constitutional amendment which could potentially see the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party dissolved. This move led to the surprise resignation of opposition leader Sam Rainsy. The controversial law was passed on 20 February 2017, effectively granting the ruling party the right to dissolve political parties.
Some political opponents of Hun Sen have in the past tried to accuse him of being a Vietnamese puppet. This is due to his position in the government created by Vietnam while Cambodia was under Vietnamese military occupation and the fact that he was a prominent figure in the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (now known as the Cambodian People's Party), which governed Cambodia as a one-party state under Vietnamese military occupation from 1979 until elections in 1993. Hun Sen and his supporters reject such charges, saying that he represented only the Cambodian people.
Hun Sen's government has been responsible for the leasing of 45% of the total landmass in Cambodia—primarily to foreign investors—in the years 2007-08, threatening more than 150,000 Cambodians with eviction. Parts of the concessions are wildlife protections or national parks, and the landsales have been perceived by observers to be the result of government corruption. Already thousands of citizens had fallen victims of forced evictions.
Hun Sen was implicated in corruption related to Cambodia's oil wealth and mineral resources in the Global Witness 2009 report on Cambodia. He and his close associates were accused of carrying out secret negotiations with interested private parties, taking money from those who would be granted rights to exploit the country's resources in return. The credibility of this accusation has been questioned by government officials and especially Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has placed bans on public gatherings, driven opposition supporters from the site of former protest meetings 'Freedom Park', and deployed riot police to beat protesters and detain union leaders.
Hun Sen and his political party, CPP, have held near total dominance over the mainstream media for the majority of their rule. Bayon Television is owned and operated by Hun Mana Hun Sen's eldest daughter. Apsara TV is joint-owned by Say Sam Al, CPP Minister of Environment and son of Say Chhum, CPP secretary and the son of CPP Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. CTN, CNC and MyTV are all owned by Khmer-Chinese tycoon, Neak Okhna Kith Meng, one of the State's "Okhna". Okhna is a title granted by the Prime Minister or the Royal Family to high-profile businessmen, and signifies a very close friendship. Okhna are regularly summoned by the Prime Minister to provide funding for various projects.
CPP officials claim that there is no connection between the TV stations and the state, despite the obvious prevalence of nepotism. However, CPP lawmaker and official spokesman Cheam Yeap once stated "We pay for that television [coverage] by buying broadcasting hours to show our achievements," indicating that those TV stations are pro-CPP because they have been paid for by the state for what is effectively advertising.
A demand for television and radio licences was one of 10 opposition requests adopted by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) at its "People’s Congress" in October 2013.
Hun Sen is married to Bun Rany. They have 6 children: Kamsot (deceased), Manet, Mana, Manith, Mani and Sok Chan. Hun Manet is a 1999 West Point Academy graduate and obtained his PhD in Economics at the University of Bristol. In 2010, Manet was promoted Major General in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and became the Deputy Commander of the Prime Minister's Body Guard headquarters. All three of Hun Sen's sons play big roles in his regime. His older brother, Hun Neng, is a former governor of Kampong Cham and currently a member of parliament.
Although Hun Sen's official birthday is 4 April 1951, his true birth date is revealed to be on 5 August 1952. Hun Sen is fluent in Vietnamese, in addition to his native Khmer. His fluency in Vietnamese has made him a target of criticism among anti-Vietnamese detractors. Hun Sen also speaks some English and began learning the language from the 1990s, but usually converses in Khmer through interpreters when giving formal interviews to the English-speaking press.