A Dragon-Controlling King Is Shaping Cambodian Politics

Prime minister may believe himself to be legendary king reincarnated
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2017 5:34 PM CST
Cambodian PM May Believe Himself Reincarnated King
In this Nov. 9, 2017 file photo, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen waits to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.   (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

The legend of Sdech Kan says the 16th century Cambodian ruler controlled dragons, walked on water, and shot four arrows simultaneously, among other tall tales. Five-hundred years later, the New York Times reports Cambodia's current ruler—Prime Minister Hun Sen—may see more than a little of himself in Kan. "My understanding, based on my research, is that he thinks he is Sdech Kan," says a monk at a pagoda near Kan's historic capital. The monk isn't the only one who thinks Hun Sen believes he's Kan reincarnated, and a Cambodian historian says that's likely bad news for any vestiges of democracy left in the country.

Hun Sen has been in power since 1985, holding onto it through cracking down on dissent and "self-mythologizing." That's where Kan comes in. Hun Sen sees his rise mirrored by that of Kan: both were born in the Year of the Dragon and started as temple servants only to become military leaders and eventual rulers. Hun Sen seems to have gone out of his way to strengthen the connection even further. He paid for research that showed Kan's capital was located near Hun Sen's birthplace and at least seven statues of Kan erected in recent years have faces that very much resemble that of Hun Sen. An official in Hun Sen's government even directed an action movie centered on Kan. But Hun Sen's apparent Kan obsession is having a major impact on Cambodia's future. A month after noting in a speech that Kan purged "difficult" people when he took over, Hun Sen broke up an opposition party ahead of 2018 elections and jailed or exiled its leaders. Read the full story here. (More Cambodia stories.)

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