In his latest social media experiment, Prime Minister Hun Sen took to Facebook on Saturday to announce the “I Am a Khmer Youth Role Model” contest, a multi-stage, fan-judged competition resulting in a grand prize of a 16GB iPhone 6.
“I hope that youth will take the time to do good deeds in society [to serve] as role model youth. There will be other duties I will continue to do in order for youth to have more opportunities in society,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote in a post announcing the competition.
Contestants are invited to submit poems, articles, drawings, music, or videos representing their solutions to problems facing the country to the prime minister’s website. Users will then narrow the pool to their 10 favorite submissions, which will be posted to Facebook over the course of 10 days, with the grand prize winner selected based on the number of “likes” it receives.
Mr. Hun Sen has increasingly used Facebook to present the public with his more personable side, with regular photo updates showing holidays, candid family moments, and strolls along the Phnom Penh riverfront.
The effort has seemingly paid off. Over 2.07 million Facebook users had liked Mr. Hun Sen’s page as of Sunday evening, just 16,846 users shy of opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s tally, and up from 1 million just four months ago.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the new role model competition was part of the party’s effort to prepare a new generation of leaders.
“We already know that CPP has led the country for about 30 years, so officials including me and other seniors should help youth to succeed,” he said.
Ly Kimseng, a 22-year-old electrical engineering student, said he hadn’t heard of the competition, but thought it worthwhile.
“I think that if [Mr. Hun Sen] would continue the program, there would be more role model youth with knowledge to share in the society,” Mr. Kimseng said while seated on a park bench in Phnom Penh.
A friend sitting next to him was more guarded.
“The new generation has many ideas for fixing the country,” said Chheaang Hourt, 24, who is also studying electrical engineering. But “in this situation, I can’t tell [the prime minister] directly because of his power.”
Political commentator Ou Ritthy downplayed “likes” as an indicator of true popularity among youth.
“The strong culture of follow-ship and pleasing boss (PM Hun Sen) is copied and pasted on social media,” he wrote in an email.
“Youth are observing him and seemingly support his activities via LIKES but he…is not able to influence or convert independent youth to support CPP yet, because he has not done in terms of implementing sound policy and genuine reforms for youth’s benefits yet.”
Pich Sros, head of the newly launched Cambodian Youth Party, characterized the contest as a doomed plea for popularity.
“[Mr. Hun Sen] has seen that the youth don’t like him, so he makes this program for the youth to come back and love him,” he said. “He cannot affect people because for the past 30 years, he never supported the youth.”