The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s now a rule in Cambodia to call its leader ‘Princely exalted supreme great commander of gloriously victorious troops’

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and wife Bun Rany at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit last year in Malaysia. (Lai Seng Sin/AP)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has a reputation for demagoguery. He has been in power for more than three decades, a lengthy spell during which he has maneuvered through conflict and political upheaval with guile. His government is accused of everything from corruption to clamping down violently on dissent to meddling with the freedom of the press. Critics say Hun Sen also stymied an international tribunal prosecuting Khmer Rouge war criminals, prematurely closing the door on his nation’s much-needed reckoning with a horrifically bloody past.

Hun Sen is commonly referred to by many in the press and international media as Cambodia’s prime minister, but this title is apparently insufficient. That was made clear by state authorities, who summoned journalists to a lengthy meeting at Cambodia’s Information Ministry on Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, “all media must use [Hun Sen’s] full, honorary, six-word title — ‘Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen’ — in the opening lines of print articles, radio and TV stories about the leader.” This phrase can be translated into “Lord prime minister and supreme military commander,” as the AP has it, or the more grandiose “Princely exalted supreme great commander of gloriously victorious troops.” It was awarded to Hun Sen by Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni in 2007.

The mandate extends also to his wife, Bun Rany, who should be referred to as “Samdech Kittipritbandit Bun Rany Hun Sen,” which can be translated to “Celebrated Senior Scholar Bun Rany Hun Sen,” a reference to her having obtained a PhD.

Hun Sen is hardly the only world leader keen on amassing extravagant titles. But he presides over a government whose excesses are largely ignored by the international community, as noted in The Washington Post’s opinion pages last year by Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“Every diplomat I’ve ever spoken to about Cambodia acknowledges that Hun Sen has blood on his hands and is highly corrupt,” Adams wrote. “No one pretends that he is a democrat. Yet most governments turn away when he manipulates elections, arrests opponents and unleashes his security forces on peaceful protesters.”

Adams added: “As with many who stay long in power, he gives long, rambling speeches on national television and has begun comparing himself to great Cambodian historical figures while claiming exalted titles.”

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