With rumors swirling about his health, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who has not been seen in public for months, on Monday became the latest ruling party stalwart to be bestowed with the honorific “Samdech,” which translates roughly as “The Greatest.”
Mr. An, one of the country’s most prominent politicians as head of the Council of Ministers and various other state bodies, received the rare title through a royal decree released last night. Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Senate President Say Chhum received the title in 2015.
The decree lists a wide range of reasons for granting the distinction to Mr. An, 66, including his efforts toward “protecting democracy,” “building up national peace” and ensuring “social stability” under the “intelligent leadership” of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who also holds the honorific.
The reason for the decision’s timing, along with Mr. An’s current whereabouts, were unclear on Monday. Rumors began circulating over the weekend he had died, leading government spokesman Phay Siphan to take to Facebook to quell the speculation.
“In response to the news media through social networks (social media) that insulted Dr. Sok An, that’s not true,” Mr. Siphan wrote on Monday, adding that those who worked for and loved Mr. An were praying for him.
The “Samdech” honorific was put in the spotlight last year after the Information Ministry threatened to close down media outlets that did not use it when referring to officials who hold the title. Mr. Hun Sen eventually nixed the order amid widespread ridicule and defiance.