PHNOM PENH -- In various spots around this dynamic capital, one can see posters depicting Cambodia's three key leaders -- Prime Minister Hun Sen in the center, with Senate president Chea Sim on his left and National Assembly president Heng Samrin on his right. But in reality, it is the man in the middle who wields the power. Over his three-decade reign, Hun Sen literally has called the shots -- and in effect made Cambodia what it is today.
So pervasive is Hun Sen's influence that when the 71-year-old Prince Norodom Ranariddh -- son of the late King Norodom Sihanouk -- unexpectedly returned to the Cambodian political arena in mid-January after eight years of voluntary exile, pundits immediately concluded that it was a political stunt by the prime minister. That may be correct. As Cambodia's recent history shows, the prince's royalist party has the potential to help shore up Hun Sen's rule in the face of growing opposition.