CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen has slammed Western commentators as “stupid” for suggesting his health is deteriorating, suggesting he could demonstrate his fitness through competitive golf or chess.
Speaking at the opening of a medical centre on Monday, the 65-year-old said that claims of his “declining health” and that he is “visibly frail” were “ridiculous”, according to local daily the Phnom Penh Post.
Hun Sen reportedly named journalist Sebastian Strangio and historian David Chandler during his speech, who were both quoted raising questions about the aging leader’s future in a Southeast Asia Globe article from Jan 1.
“I think it is purely stupid that they will even look at that day I went to pray at Angkor Wat and say Hun Sen stood up and did not walk normally,” said the PM as quoted by the Post, referring to an event last November where the PM prayed alongside monks for “peace” and “stability” in Cambodia.
Having celebrated 33 years in power earlier this month, Hun Sen has said he wishes to rule Cambodia for at least another decade. He is already the longest serving Prime Minister on the planet.
But regular medical visits to Singapore, including a stint in hospital there to be treated for “exhaustion” last May, have spurred rumours that the premier’s health is ailing.
“The question of succession is becoming more pressing with every passing year,” Strangio – the author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia – told the Southeast Asia Globe. “Hun Sen is a Buddhist – he knows that everything passes, including himself.”
“I have heard lots of stories from Cambodians about the health of Hun Sen,” Naresuan University lecturer Paul Chambers was quoted as saying.
In response, Hun Sen challenged the commentators to a round of golf or a chess game to prove he is in good shape.
“I’m happiest when playing chess,” he told the Phnom Penh Post in 1995. Also a keen golfer, Hun Sen said in 2016 that his belly was preventing him from playing golf well after he posted unflattering photos of himself on Facebook.
A video posted to Facebook two years ago, meanwhile, appeared to show the PM having a stroke, which he denied. Hun Sen has repeatedly attacked the Cambodian opposition for spreading what he has said are false rumours about his health.
“I’ve lived through difficult times, starting with putting my life at risk and returning to take up the job as prime minister for 33 years,” said a defiant Hun Sen earlier this month, as quoted by the Khmer Times.
“I hope the ruling Cambodian People’s Party will be victorious in the upcoming general election, giving me the opportunity to continue to lead the country in order to develop and push for greater socio-economic revival.”