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Singapore’s transition makes a mockery of Cambodia’s

Singapore is giving us a glimpse of what Cambodia could become. New Prime Minister Lawrence Wong benefits from a consultative approach to policy as he takes over from Lee Hsien Loong, who had been in power for 20 years.

Lee Hsien Loong is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. The change of power means that for the first time since the city-state became independent, members of the Lee family neither hold the position of prime minister nor stand next in line to take over.

Wong’s appointment in May 2024 followed the “Forward Singapore” consultative exercise launched in June 2022. More than 200,000 Singaporeans were involved in the process, which led to a 180-page report being published in October 2023. The report sets out progressive priorities like retraining people who want to change careers and providing support for the unemployed.

The contrast with Cambodia could hardly be starker. Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen handed the position to his son Hun Manet in August 2023 in a process devoid of consultation. Democratic opposition to the Hun family regime, whether in the form of the Cambodia National Rescue Party or the Candlelight Party, was barred from contesting national elections in 2018 and 2023.

Wong has said that his government will have a consultative approach to policy-making and that his team is “prepared to re-examine all our assumptions.” Meanwhile, Hun Sen, now president of Cambodia’s Senate, brushed away concerns about a planned Chinese-backed canal in Cambodia by saying that he never made a wrong decision in 47 years of power.

Singapore, of course, is not a democracy in the Western sense. The political system has been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since 1959. Like