After 10 failed attempts over the past 14 years, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday announced to a crop of new university graduates that he had finally overcome one of his greatest vices.
“For one year, I have struggled,” he told the graduates of Chamroeun University of Poly-Technology at the ceremony on Koh Pich island. “But I have not been struggling with a person or with nature, I have struggled with myself.”
“I can announce today that I have been successful. I have stopped smoking cigarettes,” he told the students.
For years, Mr. Hun Sen has opined on his battle with nicotine in public speeches. In March, when he announced his latest campaign to quit, he scolded Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Commander Pol Saroeun for never having his own cigarettes. On Thursday, he took another jab.
“The person who wants to follow me and stop is Pol Saroeun, but he is not able to stop,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Also, [Phnom Penh Governor] Pa Socheatvong attempted to stop, but he still cannot stop.”
The prime minister told the graduates that he pitied his wife for having to deal with the constant smell of cigarettes and that a critical turning point in his quest to quit came when a sub-decree that would ban smoking in public spaces passed his desk.
He said he sent the sub-decree back to the Health Ministry, unsigned, because he liked to smoke at Council of Ministers meetings.
“If I have to leave the meeting room to smoke a cigarette, would there be someone there to listen to me?” he said.
The sub-decree is still awaiting approval.
While the prime minister was happy to have kicked his destructive habit, he was decidedly less pleased with his bodyguards Thursday.
Upon arriving at Koh Pich Theater, he said, a member of his security detail got in the way of him praying to the monks in attendance.
“Immediately I grabbed him and moved him aside so I could pray to the monks,” he said. “If I did not advise them, they would do it again.”
The Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit had also become a burden on the golf course, he said, constantly moving into his line of sight when watching the trajectory of his shot.
He said he had told his private security unit that the only dangers on the golf course were flying balls, and that he had no problem dodging them himself.
“I told them…‘Go away, it is just a golf ball, I can escape from it,’” he said. “In 1998, there was an attempted assassination with four B-40 rockets and I did not die.”