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Cambodian PM: Never Mind, Don’t Call Me Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander

The Cambodian prime minister has walked back on a request that journalists call him by his full name.

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - JULY 22:  Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the media before a meeting with Sam Rainsy, President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, aimed at resolving the year-long political deadlock on July 22, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen meets today with the President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Sam Rainsy, for "final talks" on an agreement to end the year-long political deadlock between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the CNRP, a week after eight CNRP Members of Parliament-elect were arrested and charged with crimes of insurrection and incitement to violence. The deal on the table is based on a principle agreement dating back to April 2014 between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, which includes a February 2018 national election and reform of the National Election Committee.  (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - JULY 22: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the media before a meeting with Sam Rainsy, President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, aimed at resolving the year-long political deadlock on July 22, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen meets today with the President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Sam Rainsy, for "final talks" on an agreement to end the year-long political deadlock between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the CNRP, a week after eight CNRP Members of Parliament-elect were arrested and charged with crimes of insurrection and incitement to violence. The deal on the table is based on a principle agreement dating back to April 2014 between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, which includes a February 2018 national election and reform of the National Election Committee. (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)

In May, Cambodian journalists endured a three-hour meeting at the information ministry in Phnom Penh.

The takeaway? It would soon be mandatory for reporters to reference Prime Minister Hun Sen by his full title on first reference.

In Cambodia, that’s a pretty serious request, considering that Sen’s official title translates roughly from the Khmer as “Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And the demand for formalities didn’t end there: His wife, Bun Rany, was no longer to be referred to as “first lady.” Instead, the government said she should always be called by a title that translates to something along the lines of “Celebrated Senior Scholar.”

But on Friday, nearly two months after the initial request, Hun Sen walked back claims that he should always be referred to by his formal title, saying instead that he deferred to journalists’ judgment so long as their reporting was ethical.

According to the Khmer Times, the ministry of information — which demanded the change in May — said Friday “that if Mr. Hun Sen did not think it was necessary for journalists to use the title, the ministry would follow his lead.”

Hun Sen’s retreat comes after he was mocked over the self-serving demand, which many saw as the latest in the Cambodian leader’s attempt to control the press. In January, he threatened journalists with arrest if they insulted him on social media. “If I want to take action against you, we will get [you] within seven hours at the most,” he wrote.

Photo credit: Omar Havana/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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