Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday challenged Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to bring his fastest boat for a head-to-head race on the first day of next month’s Water Festival, claiming that his subordinate has a tendency to dodge difficult races and carefully pick his opponents to improve his chance of winning.
Speaking to more than 6,000 graduates of Cambodia University of Specialties on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich, Mr. Hun Sen said that with the luxury to choose from a 20-strong fleet, Mr. An had in past years been able to test the waters on the first two days of the competition before deciding which vessel to name after his home district and enter in the big races on the third and final day.
The annual Water Festival draws hundreds of thousands of people from across the country to Phnom Penh to watch the races, with the majority of the ornate wooden boats, which are propelled by dozens of oarsmen, carrying the name of the district, commune or village they represent.
“In the past, Sok An took the boat Kiri Vong Sok Sen Chey [to race] but it didn’t really come from Kiri Vong district,” Mr. Hun Sen told the students. Kiri Vong is Mr. An’s home district in Takeo province.
“Our boats never beat Sok An’s boats because Sok An has 20 boats, meaning the one that is the fastest would be named Kiri Vong Sok Sen Chey,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Mr. Hun Sen—whose boat Srey Mao Kraing Yov is named after Kraing Yov commune in Kandal province, where the prime minister has ties—challenged the deputy prime minister to commit his district’s name to a single boat before the start of the festival.
“Thus, Sok An can’t change the name after he knows which boat is faster,” Mr. Hun Sen explained.
The prime minister said that if Mr. An was willing to stick with just one vessel, he would be willing to gamble that his own boat would prove superior in a day-one race.
“Srey Mao Kraing Yov is always fastest on the first day of the races,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “I will bet that Srey Mao Kraing Yov can beat Kiri Vong Sok Sen Chey on the first day.”