Hun Sen and son preside over Khmer New Year celebration near Angkor Wat

Elaborate event criticized as costly use of national budget.
By RFA Khmer
Hun Sen and son preside over Khmer New Year celebration near Angkor Wat Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, his wife, Bun Rany, and others attend the Angkor Sangkran in Siem Reap province on April 14, 2023.
Credit: Hun Sen Facebook page

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his youngest son kicked off a lavish Khmer New Year celebration at the Angkor temples complex on Friday as several thousand volunteers set a world record for the largest display of origami hearts.

The arrangement of more than 3.9 million origami hearts at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Siem Reap province was organized by Hun Many, the chairman of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia and a parliamentary candidate in the upcoming July general election.

“Cambodia has between 16 and 17 million people. We can make about 4 million hearts, so if China and India can make more hearts then the committee must consider,” the prime minister said, referring to the Guinness World Records officials who determine whether a record has been set. “They must think about the percent of the country’s population.” 

The Angkor Sangkran 2023 celebration near Angkor Wat temple – Cambodia’s top tourist attraction – has been decorated with lights, souvenir shops, food stalls, concerts and floating boats. Volunteers from the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, which is made up of supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, did much of the work for the event.

But the festival hasn’t done anything to promote the country’s culture, political analyst Kim Sok told Radio Free Asia. Money was spent out of the national budget and civil servants were put to work just to make people happy ahead of the election, he said.

“Hun Sen doesn’t think about the country and its people. He organized the event for his face and for his family,” he said.

Hun Many is currently a lawmaker from Kampong Speu province. Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, has also been named a parliamentary candidate. He is currently the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and is expected to eventually succeed his father as prime minister. 

Left: A scene from the Angkor Sangkran festivities. Right: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, look at part of the world’s largest display of origami hearts at the Angkor Sankram festival on April 14, 2023. Nearly 4 million folded hearts were created at the Angkor Wat temple ahead of the new year. Credit: Hun Sen Facebook page

Another Guinness record attempt

A member of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, Kean Savong, told RFA that another world record will be attempted at the festival on Saturday, when thousands of people will gather to do the Madison line dance. 

“People are volunteers so we don’t spend much money,” he said. 

A villager from Siem Reap province, Siem Vann, said Angkor Sangkran will make people happy for a short time but won’t really do anything to help the country when so many people are facing financial difficulties, are indebted to banks or are considering moving abroad to find work. 

He urged the government to think about increasing local markets for farmers and resolving political conflict.

“The government should use the budget to appropriately help the poor and restore democracy so that people will have freedom,” he said. 

Siem Reap authorities wouldn’t elaborate on how much the event will cost, but the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia said private donations from rich businessmen known by the honorific “Okhna” will cover most of the expenses.  

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed.


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