Cambodian Leader: That’s ‘Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander’ To You

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has demanded that reporters refer to him using his official title.

<> on July 22, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
<> on July 22, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodian Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen of Cambodia is not pleased that journalists have been dropping the “Lord” and “Supreme Military Commander” from his title, referring to him only as Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Thursday, his Information Ministry gathered reporters for a nearly three-hour meeting to rectify the situation and threaten legal action for those who fail to respect the lord prime minister’s proper title.

His title may include the words “prime minister,” an apparently democratic term, but critics accuse Hun Sen and his ruling party of seizing power in what amounted to a coup in 1997, rigging recent elections and curtailing freedom for the press and NGOs.

The Cambodian People’s Party suffered an unprecedented setback in the 2013 elections, winning only a slim majority in the National Assembly. The election was followed by street protests and a boycott of Parliament by the opposition, which claimed that election fraud had prevented them from gaining the majority. Hun Sen was surprisingly conciliatory, meeting with opposition leader Sam Rainsy from the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Now, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy — or rather, Mr. Nice Lord Prime Minister. In January, he warned Facebook users that they would be arrested if they criticize him on the social media site. In his speech, he went so far as to name a specific critic, warning, “If I want to take action against you, we will get [you] within seven hours at the most.”

Then, in February, Hun Sen Facebook page’s “likes” suddenly doubled, but the Phnom Penh Post reported that more than half of the new likes came from abroad, suggesting that the prime minister had purchased them from click farms.

The government has also been cracking down on human rights advocates, arresting NGO staffers and protesters. On Monday, police arrested nine protesters for wearing black T-shirts to support jailed human rights activists.

The Information Ministry did not make clear at the three-hour meeting on Thursday what the punishment would be for failing to use the correct title for Hun Sen and other state leaders like his wife, Celebrated Senior Scholar Bun Rany Hun Sen.

Whatever it is, it will probably be more unpleasant than a three-hour briefing from Big Brother in the first place.

Photo credit: OMAR HAVANA/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert
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