Hun Sen Hits Back at Rumors of Illness With Selfies, City Drives
The Cambodia Daily | 17 July 2017
Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to fight off Facebook rumors that he was unwell and seeking treatment abroad over the weekend, making his case using video selfies and photographs of a casual Sunday drive.
The social media tit-for-tat came as a government spokesman confirmed that the Council of Ministers had not met in several weeks in spite of a constitutional article requiring weekly meetings.
“If the prime minister lost his position like they said, surely this country would be plunged into chaos,” Mr. Hun Sen said in a video posted to his Facebook page on Saturday.
Last week, an overseas government critic who calls himself Cham Chan[n]y claimed on his Facebook page that the prime minister had gone to Singapore for medical treatment but not appointed any acting leader in his absence, citing an anonymous source.
The prime minister rebutted the claims last Monday with a photo album of his family eating and shopping, asking whether he needed to tell the world “that I was here or there.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan claimed last week that Mr. Hun Sen had never left the country and would have appointed a surrogate if he had.
But social media users in the ensuing days seemed to identify several of the locations visited by the prime minister in his photos, including the VIP room of luxury watch outlet Patek Philippe inside Singapore’s ION Orchard mall.
Other users highlighted what they claimed was a money belt peaking out beneath the prime minister’s suit, suggesting Mr. Hun Sen had paid for his medical treatment in cash, while still more claimed he had been rushed to Hong Kong or France for further treatment for cancer or a stroke.
Mr. Hun Sen sought to silence the “rumor mongers” with a video selfie uploaded to his Facebook page on Saturday showing him in the seat of a vehicle moving through a city he said was Phnom Penh, though the video is not clear enough to see beyond the car.
“This very bad rumor should be eliminated via my video clip that shows I am living here…traveling like normal, in traffic jams like any other,” he said.
On Sunday, government-aligned Fresh News posted a photo album of the prime minister driving along Hun Sen Boulevard, posing alongside cars and even taking the wheel of an old Toyota sedan from a bewildered-looking family apparently in the area for a driving lesson.
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he had not seen Mr. Hun Sen in person since the CPP celebrated its 66th anniversary on July 3.
The Cabinet, which is chaired by Mr. Hun Sen, had not met since before that day, the spokesman said, although he said he could not remember the exact date of the last meeting.
Mr. Siphan initially attributed the lack of meetings to commune election busyness but called reporters back to clarify that only one meeting had been rescheduled for that reason. Subsequent meetings had not been delayed, but rather simply not scheduled, presumably, he said, because the body lacked any agenda items.
Article 104 of the Constitution says that the Council of Ministers “shall meet every week in a plenary session or in a working session” chaired by the prime minister, who may appoint a deputy prime minister to lead working sessions.
Mr. Siphan could not be reached for further comment on the constitutional article.
Mr. Eysan, the CPP spokesman, said the prime minister would prove his vitality today when he speaks before tens of thousands of people at Olympic Stadium to celebrate the listing of pre-Angkorian temples at Sambor Prei Kuk as Cambodia’s third World Heritage site.
“He is fine,” Mr. Eysan said, reiterating his earlier claim that Mr. Hun Sen never left the country.
Bong Chansambath, a writer for politics forum Politikoffee and an international relations student at Pannasastra University, said the rumors of ill-health were partially promoted by anonymous Facebook accounts whose information could not be trusted.
But there were legitimate reasons to question what the prime minister was up to on his apparent trip to Singapore, according to Mr. Chansambath.
“Since every of the prime minister’s official overseas trips has been orchestrated with massive media coverage and long lines of his Cabinet members who arrive and wait to [wave] goodbye to him, an absence of these raises questions about [the] nature of the trip,” he wrote in an email.