Hun Manet, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, faced another setback on Tuesday in his attempts to engage with the Cambodian diaspora, after officials in Lowell, Massachusetts—home to about 30,000 Cambodian-Americans—voted against his proposed visit to the city next month.
The City Council’s rejection comes days after Lieutenant General Manet announced he would not be attending a Khmer New Year parade he was invited to in Long Beach, California, amid vehement opposition from many of the city’s Cambodian-Americans.
Lowell is home to the U.S.’ second-largest Cambodian population behind Long Beach. According to an article in the Lowell Sun newspaper, City Council officials denounced Lt. Gen. Manet’s visit planned for April 16 and 17, during which he was scheduled to meet with city officials, deliver a speech at a local restaurant and donate a 12th-century Khmer statue.
Hundreds of Cambodian community members packed into a public gallery at Lowell City Hall on Tuesday evening, waving signs saying “Don’t pour salt on our wounds” and “Dictatorship does not belong in Lowell,” the newspaper reported. The protest followed a petition signed by 500 residents condemning the visit.
“Success today…for Cambodian-Americans in the city of Lowell Massachusetts that the city councilors voted to oppose the official reception of Hun Manet’s visit to the city,” Synoun Kham, a Cambodian activist and Lowell resident, said in a Facebook post accompanied by photographs of the protest.
“I want to reiterate that Hun Manet is not welcome in Lowell Massachusetts with [the] motion unanimously to reject his [presence] and Cambodian official delegations,” the post said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Lt. Gen. Manet, wanting to avoid creating a schism between his supporters and detractors in the U.S., would make alternate arrangements.
“I do not care about the people who voted not to support His Excellency Hun Manet,” Mr. Eysan said. “He has already announced on his Facebook either way that he will go to the U.S.A. during the Khmer New Year.”
“Some people welcome him and some don’t—he will just go somewhere else.”
But for the man who some have touted as a possible successor to his father, and who was tasked last year with leading the CPP’s foreign outreach efforts, another rejection amounts to a significant “backfire” against the ruling party’s international public relations campaign, said political analyst Ou Virak.
“People from money and power usually expect red-carpet treatment,” he said. “I don’t know what the government’s strategy was, but they made a mistake to assume people would be so gullible.”
Mr. Virak, himself a U.S. citizen, said Lt. Gen. Manet symbolized what many Cambodian-Americans who left the country in the 1980’s continued to resent.
“The Cambodians in [the] U.S. are haunted by the past—many still see the Hun Sen government as a puppet of the Vietnamese,” he said.
“They get points for trying. But this is basically a backfire against the government.”