Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is now a year younger after he changed his official birthdate to Aug. 5, 1952, instead of April 4, 1951, a switch critics attributed to his overly superstitious nature.
Hun Sen's lawyer filed a petition with the Phnom Penh court earlier this month which stated that Hun Sen had been using the wrong date of birth, a mistake owing to the fact that Cambodia was mired in a war when he officially registered it with authorities.
According to the Cambodia New Vision (CNV) website, which calls itself the official newsletter of the country’s Cabinet, Hun Sen had used the April 4, 1951, date from April 4, 1977, until June 20, 2022.
The year he officially registered was a tumultuous one for Cambodia and for Hun Sen, who had been a member of the ruling Khmer Rouge. The future prime minister fled with supporters to Vietnam in 1977 to escape a brutal political purge. He returned as one of the leaders of the Vietnamese-sponsored rebel army in 1979, becoming the country’s leader in 1985.
Those who are skeptical of this version of events point to the fact that the change moves his birth from the Year of the Rabbit to the Year of the Dragon, considered auspicious by those who adhere to the Chinese zodiac.
Exiled political analyst Kim Sok told RFA that Hun Sen should concern himself with bigger issues.
“He is supposed to serve the interests of the people and protect the country’s territorial integrity and national honor, but he prioritizes the interests of himself and his family. It hinders the national interest,” Kim Sok said.
Man Nath, the chairman of the Norway-based Cambodian Monitoring Council, said in a Facebook post that the change shows Hun Sen’s excessively superstitious nature.
“His belief in superstition dominates his leadership. If he is a good leader, even in death he will become a ghost and still be worshiped for decades," Man Nath said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Taing Sunlay issued a decree on June 20 adjusting the date of birth as sought by Hun Sen. Judge Taing Sunlay ordered the registrar and the authorities to change the civil status data in accordance with the prime minister’s request.
Sok Eysan, spokesperson for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, told RFA it was right for Hun Sen to correct his birthdate, but he declined to comment on whether it related to superstition.
“It is the responsibility of the prime minister himself to make [that decision], and there is no loss of anything to the people. The people of the country do not say anything [about it],” he said.
Local media reported in early May that Hun Sen had announced the change days after the death of his older brother Hun Neng.
India-based Wion News reported on May 19 that Hun Sen suspected the birthdate he had been using may have led to his brother’s death because it conflicted with the Chinese zodiac.
The report also said that it is common for Cambodians older than 50 to have multiple birthdays. Official records were often lost or destroyed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, creating confusion about family histories. Others may have altered their birthdates to avoid military service in the 1980s when fighting continued between the government and Khmer Rouge remnants.
Hun Sen’s Aug. 5, 1952, birthdate has been known publicly for at least the past 15 years. A reference to that date appeared in 2007 on Wikipedia, which cited a report by the Cambodia Daily news outlet.
Subsequent edits over the next few years acknowledged one date or the other, and sometimes both.
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Khmer.