Book Profiles Lives of Cambodia’s Prime Ministers

Local journalist Chhay Sophal on Wednesday launched his Khmer-language compilation of biographies of the 36 men who have served as prime minister of Cambodia since the closing years of the French protectorate.

Entitled “Who Are the 36 Cambodian Prime Ministers?” the book is an attempt to educate the public about leaders before Mr. Hun Sen, who has served as prime minister in some capacity since 1985, Mr. Sophal said at the launch, which was held at the Club of Cambodian Journalists’ offices in Phnom Penh.

“For current youths, if we talk about prime ministers, they recognize Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] or some people remember Norodom Ranariddh or Ung Huot but up until now how many know more prime ministers?” Mr. Sophal asked.

“There are some prime ministers who died suspiciously, from poison or from being tied up, and some fled when they had no power,” continued Mr. Sophal, a former Reuters reporter who now teaches journalism at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of Media Communications.

Among the more interesting profiles in the book, which was funded in part by the Information Ministry, is Prince Sisowath Youtevong, who led the Democratic Party to a decisive election victory in 1946 before mysteriously dying.

“The mystery surrounding his death has not yet been resolved in detail and there have been questions asked of his death: How did he die? Was there any proof he was sick? Did the French poison him or was the Democratic Party involved? And who benefited from his death?” Mr. Sophal writes.

The book also notes the peculiar case of Prime Minister Ieu Koeus, who was also a member of the Democratic Party but served in office for little more than a week.

“Ieu Koeus was prime minister for only nine days from September 20 to 28, 1949,” Mr. Sophal wrote. “He was [a] person who was very polite, did not have a bad temper and enjoyed talking with his family but disliked playing sports.”

The book notes that Ieu Koeus had served as a prominent union leader the same year, and was killed by an assassin.

“At 6 p.m., after Ieu Koeus closed a meeting of the executive committee of the Democratic Party, there was a bomb thrown into the party office. Ieu Koeus was wounded and killed,” the book says.

The prime minister’s son, Ieu Pannekar, would go on to found the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Phnom Penh with fellow filmmaker Rithy Panh in December 2006 and to serve in the Senate.

The book draws on existing historical information but also uses interviews with surviving relatives.

One interview was with CNRP lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, whose father Nhiek Tioulong served in 1962, and whose husband, CNRP President Sam Rainsy, is a current aspirant.

“He was a handsome man and charming,” it says. “Ms. Saumura told me that her father liked Khmer and European foods. For Khmer foods, he liked bamboo-shoot soup…but he disliked prahok, mam and any foods with a bad smell.”

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