Stepping out of his political job and into the role of patriarch, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday advised a gathering of close family members not to abuse their positions or do anything to harm the livelihoods of less fortunate members of Cambodian society.
Mr Hun Sen gave his sage advice while speaking at a private family gathering at a hotel in Phnom Penh, where members of four generations of the Hun family, including his father, Hun Neang, 87, and a selection of high ranking government officials had gathered.
“I would like to declare that as I am your uncle and prime minister, I cannot forgive any acts,” the prime minister said, while surrounded by an attentive group of younger Hun family members.
“I do not let my children, nephews or nieces commit wrong deeds without receiving punishment,” he said in the speech, which was broadcast on both Bayon television and Apsara TV on Monday and yesterday, respectively.
“If [we] show favoritism to relatives, [we] violate the law,” Mr Hun Sen said. “The Hun family must be ready to help the poor people.”
Warning of the dangers of people who use their privileged positions in society to negative ends, Mr Hun Sen made reference to the treatment former high-ranking officials of the Lon Nol regime received when the Khmer Rouge grasped control from them in 1975.
“This is not an authoritative order, but I just want to let you know that if Hun Sen loses power, you will become a target for attacks if you do not follow my advice,” Mr Hun Sen said. “The children of the former Lon Nol regime and its officers could not get out of Phnom Penh on time and revenge occurred.”
In his short speech that lasted about 10 minutes, Mr Hun Sen underlined that there were more than 100 of his relatives present at the gathering, many being the premier’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mr Hun Sen reiterated on a number of occasions his desire to see his family members prosper through doing “good deeds” and “charitable actions.”
At one point, Mr Neang, the premier’s father, cut into a large square-shaped cake with a long knife to mark the family gathering.
Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema welcomed the broadcasting of prime minister’s advice on TV.
“As Municipal Governor, I am very pleased that whoever commits bad acts cannot expect Samdech Hun Sen to intervene,” he said.
The prime minister’s comments to his relatives on privilege and their responsibility to help those less privileged in Cambodia comes close on the publication in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper of a behind-the-scene expose on the extremely lavish lifestyles of the children of the Cambodia ruling elite, particularly those related to the Mr Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.
The issue at the heart of the article, titled “Khmer Riche,” is whether or not the children of the country’s political and business elite, which are often one and the same according to the newspaper article, will use their overseas education and wealth to “lift their less fortunate compatriots out of poverty?
“Or will they simply continue their parents’ fevered pursuit of money and power?” the article asked.
It is not the first time that Cambodia’s complex web of politics, families, business and wealth have been in the spotlight.
International environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a February report that “an examination of Cambodia’s business sector reveals that the country’s beaches, casinos, forests, hotels, islands, land, national buildings and ports are now predominantly controlled by a handful of government-affiliated tycoons, high ranking police and military brass, or family members of senior political figures.”
Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst and former head of the Center for Social Development, said she was surprised and “excited” that the prime minister had been so forthright with his relatives and the public.
“The message from Samdech Hun Sen was powerful to awaken his nephews and nieces,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Simon Marks)