Cambodia PM U-turns on demand that media use his 'glorious' and 'supreme' title

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony at the party headquarters to mark the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the party in Phnom Penh June 28.
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony at the party headquarters to mark the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the party in Phnom Penh June 28. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodian premier Hun Sen backed down on Friday (July 8) from a government order requiring journalists to refer to him as "glorious, supreme prime minister and powerful commander" in all news reports.

The edict, which sparked widespread ridicule, was handed down in May while the Ministry of Information issued new threats this week to revoke the licences of any media outlets that failed to use the royally-bestowed title on first reference.

The honorific has no exact English translation but the words taken together mean "glorious, supreme prime minister and powerful commander".

The order had been ignored by English news outlets and independent radio stations while most Khmer language outlets have long used the title.

But Mr Hun Sen, who has ruled the impoverished country for three decades, made a rare U-turn on Friday when he conceded that journalists could decide whether to print the full title.

"As for the use of titles of government leaders, it is not compulsory to write the exact titles if journalists do not want to use them," the premier wrote on Facebook, a forum he has embraced with gusto in recent months.

Mr Hun Sen has dominated Cambodian politics for the past 31 years in a reign marred by accusations of corruption, electoral fraud and rampant rights abuses.

He has come under growing criticism in recent months from rights groups who accuse the strongman of abusing the courts to sideline political rivals ahead of elections in 2018.

On Thursday, the Britain-based watchdog Global Witness released a report accusing the premier and his relatives of carving a US$200 million (S$271 million) business empire out of the impoverished country's economy to buttress their political power.

"Behind the scenes of Hun Sen's dictatorial reign, his family is amassing vast personal fortunes," the watchdog said, describing a "huge network of secret deal-making, corruption and cronyism which is helping secure the prime minister's political fortress".

The government dismissed the report, calling it an effort discredit the premier, but has yet to directly address the specific allegations detailed by researchers.