PHNOM PENH - Asia's longest-serving leader, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, announced his intention on Wednesday to run for another term, warning that only his re-election in 2018 would keep the country from civil war.
The announcement will come as little surprise to Cambodians, who have heard the 63-year-old, self-styled "strongman" promise to stay in power until he is 74 and also predict a descent to the dark days of conflict without him at the helm.
"Hun Sen will win again, that's because the victory is with peace like this. People don't have to flee and crawl," Hun Sen said in a speech, making his customary reference to himself in the third person.
Analysts say the former Khmer Rouge soldier, who has been prime minister for 30 years, appears intent on building a political dynasty by promoting his three US military-trained sons to top positions in the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the army.
Hun Sen's rule has seen him chided by rights groups for authoritarianism, stamping out critics and using his influence over judges, police and the media to stifle his political opponents.
Robust economic growth, jobs creation and sustained peace for an impoverished country roiled by decades of civil war have ensured Hun Sen's continued re-election, although experts say he now faces a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition popular among urban youth.
His CPP returned to power in 2013 with a greatly reduced majority after losing many seats to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The 2018 vote is expected to be a close contest.
A long dispute between CPP and CNRP over the 2013 election result was resolved last year, but there have been signs recently that the political truce may not hold.
Hun Sen has been irked by opposition calls for a change in laws to limit premiers to a number of terms.