From Rio de Janeiro to Manila, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook fans span continents.
New data from the social media analytics site Socialbakers shows that the prime minister’s foreign Facebook “likes” now outnumber his domestic ones, renewing questions about how he achieved his global support.
Former opposition leader and Facebook rival Sam Rainsy, who was found guilty of defamation in November over saying Mr. Hun Sen’s “likes” were bought, repeated the claim in an email on Tuesday.
“Now it’s even more obvious than before with regard to this purchased ‘popularity,’” he wrote. “It’s really childish and ridiculous on his part.”
About 49.9 percent of the prime minister’s roughly 7.2 million Facebook fans currently hail from Cambodia, according to Socialbakers, down more than 6 percent since a year ago. The page has hundreds of thousands of fans from India, the Philippines and even Brazil, according to the data.
The page has become a point of pride for the prime minister, who mocked Mr. Rainsy’s bitterness at losing ground in the fan war when he surpassed him in numbers of likes last year. The page has blossomed into a full-blown media enterprise over the past year, featuring streaming television shows and “peace songs” alongside speeches and meet-and-greet photoshoots.
A recent study by global communications company Burson-Marsteller pegged the prime minister as the eighth-most popular world leader on Facebook by followers, second only to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his number of likes, comments and shares.
India is the source of almost 850,000 of Mr. Hun Sen’s “likes.” It’s also one source of a surge in likes in the immediate aftermath of the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley. That unexpected source of support has led to claims—dismissed by Mr. Hun Sen and the government—that likes were purchased in bulk from so-called “click farms.”
Keo Kounila, head of the digital marketing agency Mekhala Digital, said that while she was not certain how Mr. Hun Sen had shot to fame, global politicians often acquired followers through a slew of Facebook ads.
“First, they spend a huge amount on Facebook ads, and after a while, they switch their focus to providing various engaging content to engage loyal fans,” she wrote in an email on Tuesday.
The page’s relentless updates of streaming football matches, selfies and speeches were all in line with international social media norms, Ms. Keo said.