Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet has long been touted as his father’s chosen successor, an impression only strengthened by the searing “Never Manet” campaign launched by Cambodian-American opponents during his current trip to the U.S.
Protests have dogged Lieutenant General Manet as he has traveled around the country—with claims that male genitals were even graffitied on his car—and the pressure appeared to get to him on Monday, leaving the scion asking an interviewer what exactly he had ever done wrong.
“Hun Manet is a son of communism, but ask about when Hun Manet meets with the youth,” a soft-spoken Lt. Gen. Manet asked the Voice of America service in an interview published online.
“I, Hun Manet, have never spoken to disseminate about communism, but instead encourage the youth to dare to think, to dare to do, to dare to be responsible, to dare to express public opinions and to dare to participate,” he said.
“I do not understand either why people implicate me with my father. Do people think that the policies of President Obama implicate his children?” he asked. “Whose land has been grabbed by Hun Manet?”
It was the most revealing interview yet amid a media blitz by Lt. Gen. Manet during his trip, which has also seen him field questions from Bloomberg TV and The Lowell Sun newspaper, but it did little to appease those who see him as the crown prince of his father’s dictatorship.
“In true Hun fashion, Lt. Gen. Hun Manet speaks in the third person like his father and attempts to lay guilt on people who oppose his father’s regime,” said Veasna Roeun, who has helped lead the recent protests as vice president of the Cambodia-America Alliance.
“It’s absolutely sad and disturbing that he does not recognize people are against his father’s 30-plus years’ dictatorship. The fact that he hasn’t done anything to help alleviate the social injustices and human rights abuses has not gone unnoticed by the people,” he said.
“Here he sits and sends a message to not hold him liable for his father’s policies, yet the same regime he represents holds opposition supporters…responsible for anything they deem as ‘threats to the country,’” Mr. Roeun added.
In an interview with The Lowell Sun on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Manet defended the jailing of opposition lawmaker Um Sam An last week over his Facebook posts accusing the government of using unconstitutional maps to demarcate the Vietnamese border.
“In the case of Um Sam An…he made false accusations. He said false things about the maps, and you know the map issue, it relates to national [issues]. People in Cambodia kill each other because of land,” Lt. Gen. Manet said.
“When a national assemblyman comes out and tries to do that, and puts those documents out, he has to be responsible—this is inciteful. He also led people to go to the border, risking a fight with the Vietnamese soldiers there, if they were to be killed,” he added.
“As an assemblyman, he has other ways to do it. He could demand the border committee to explain that case, and they’d make a committee and go and study it. He didn’t—he put it online and tried to incite the youth.”
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who has in the past singled out Lt. Gen. Manet as a CPP figure he could see promoting reform, said on Tuesday he was still on the fence about whether the premier’s son could forge a political path different from his father’s.
“We do not know. We still cannot judge him or what he will be. I think people have been overreacting over his activities in the U.S., where mostly, people have compared him to his father,” Mr. Chhay said.
“However, he seemed to go to the U.S. to defend his father, which is an activity that will make people over there critical of him. But I still think we should judge individuals separately from the behavior of their relatives.”
Kem Ley, head of the “Khmer for Khmer” political advocacy group, said it was disingenuous for Lt. Gen. Manet to portray himself as being removed from the policies of his father, given his positions as deputy commander of his father’s elite bodyguard unit and head of the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department.
“He’s part of the CPP structure already,” Mr. Ley said. “Just having the political propaganda is not enough, we need to see what his policies are for the CPP in the future and what the reforms of the CPP have been so far.”
“I have not seen these reforms. If he is a qualified politician in making a difference, please make a difference in the current policies.”
However, CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun said Lt. Gen. Manet should not be held to account for criticism aimed at his father, but instead be judged on his own political credentials.
“In the principles of a state of law, each person must take responsibility…not to think about the relationship lines—about relatives, their fathers, their children, and their husbands or wives,” Mr. Phal Virun said. “When it’s different generations, the points of view and the implementation…can be different too.”
It’s an argument Lt. Gen. Manet may be keen to push forward as his political career continues—even if he routinely answers questions about his aspirations with the same response: “I haven’t thought about it.”
Indeed, the possibilities for his rise were apparent to Rudyard Griffiths, his interviewer on Bloomberg TV on Monday, who signed off his questioning of Lt. Gen. Manet with a prognostication of sorts.
“That was Hun Manet, a Cambodian senior military figure and possibly the next, future, prime minister of Cambodia,” Mr. Griffiths said. “We’ll see.”
(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean)