Hun Many: Youth Leader

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Hun Many speaking to Khmer Times in his office in the National Assembly. KT/Chor Sokunthea

He’s one of the youngest members of the National Assembly and the representative for Kampong Speu province, and he’s also the youngest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Many told Khmer Times’ Alan Parkhouse about his involvement with the youth movement he set up, what regime change means to him, his hopes for Cambodia’s future and what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of his father.
KT: You have been very engaged with the youth of Cambodia. What prompted you to take on this task, given the fact that young people in Cambodia are like young people everywhere and tend to be very anti-establishment?
HM: For me personally, I always wanted to give back to society and through volunteerism it was actually a way to give back through community service to not only the community, but to our nation. Along the way I found out there are many like-minded Cambodian youth and that’s why it was through volunteerism, community service and activities that actually bought us together. On the second part of Cambodian youth being anti-establishment, from my experience working with youth and encountering them, it is true that there are many aspects of our Cambodian youth that they are not satisfied, but I don’t think they are necessarily and wholly anti-establishment. From my own perspective and the experience that I have with them, our youth are really full of potential – they have great potential for the future of Cambodia and they need to be inclusive because they are part of the solution and not the problem.
KT: What efforts are you making to win over the young people who are the rising force in Cambodian politics?
HM: That is very important. First of all my personal take is that our youth are very smart, they are very able to make their own decisions. Whatever action they will take will be contributing positively to the development of Cambodia because it is in the interests of their own future and also the future of the nation.
First of all our youth need to be educated. Education is the key to every successful leadership at any level. Secondly, they need to be well informed because there’s many types of information that will allow them to be successful or be distracted from what will make them successful in life. So they need to be mindful of that type of different information, so very well informed. But they also need to be critically minded in the sense that they need to question every bit of information – it doesn’t matter if it is coming from the government or civil society, NGOs or the private sector. It doesn’t matter where it is from. They are able enough, they are smart enough. They need to question the assessment, the assertion, the type of information in order to really be able to own the decision-making at the end of the day.
The last point I would like to make is that because youth are the leaders of tomorrow, they need to bear the responsibility to safeguard and also develop the country in the future – they need to be really educating themselves with the responsibility that they have to bear. I think as a leader you may have the power and you have the right and youth they have the right to exercise our rights, but we also need to have the mindset to bear the responsibility of our own actions. That is very important because with power comes responsibility. And I stress, as a CPP member, this is exactly what the CPP is about. That’s what we have been doing and really not only educating our youth to understand about and participating in politics, but being able to broaden that aspect into other aspects of youth affairs – the education sector, I think medical, employment and other aspects as well so that our youth not only are able to understand politics but also being able to equip themselves to become the leaders of tomorrow.
KT: In light of the forthcoming commune elections and the general elections in two years’ time, what is your message to the young people of Cambodia?
HM: I would like to say that although the upcoming commune and national elections are very important, I think not everything is about politics. Although they are related, and also of course youth participation in politics is very important, youth also need to consider another focus as well, including the issue of education, jobs, family, and they need to also consider about the skills that would actually equip them with the foundations to be successful in life, especially now that the country is opening up, the pace of economic development is actually increasing, not only within Cambodia but also at the regional level, so the competitiveness within the job market requires our youth to be equipped with basically higher and higher qualifications.   
KT: Given your many responsibilities, how do you find the time to engage with young people and your constituency as well, given the many portfolios and positions you’ve taken on?   
HM: Sometimes I think it is always a question of how you balance it. But nonetheless I think it is not only me. As a Cambodian youth, like many of the Cambodian youth, we have to juggle between our work, our family and also our education. So like I always say, if our youth can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, so can they. But as a CPP member, who has the responsibility and the trust of the people, through each election to render service and to lead this country for the betterment of our people and our nation, this is a way to give back. This is a way to fulfill our commitment to the trust and support we have received from the people and I think not only myself, but even the president of our own party is out there, not only as a prime minister, not only as the prime minister at the international level, but at the grassroots level, and everywhere he goes he is with the people.
KT: You and your brother, Hun Manith, were sent by your father to Kampong Speu to help out some people who had some problems there. Can you tell us what went through your mind and how you resolved that issue at the time?
HM: I think that is one thing about the prime minister, also of course my father, not only the three brothers but also our sisters, are often being sent to do what is humanitarian work on his behalf, aside from what the children have already been doing. I think the issue, a land issue, in Kampong Speu that occurred last March, was another example of the concern and also the attention that our father really paid in regard to his people. I think it was quite an experience and I think we drove there around 8 or 9pm and reached there around 10pm to the detention center. I think what went through our mind was first of all we need to eliminate all the pre-judgment because of course seeing the report on TV there was a lot of emotion, a lot of trying to figure out from the emotional aspect of it, but what we actually discussed along the way with my brother was first, where do we stand?
We don’t have a stake in it and there were things already occurring, so the first thing that we told ourselves was that we need to eliminate all pre-judgment. Nonetheless, we also cannot factor in the two ladies that have been detained in the detention center. But secondly we wanted to be there fresh, listening to the ladies – what would be their argument, what would be their comments – listening to all the other stakeholders I think during that night being mindful that everything that we take in is on the basis of without prejudice. We take in all information first, we objectively evaluate but always being mindful of not undermining the rule of law and also the legal aspect that is already there.
KT: In hindsight, would you have addressed the issue any differently?
HM: I think, knowing what we know now, I know there’s probably many things that we could have done differently. But I do believe that as each situation and issue presents its own problems, own angle, own context, that we need to objectively factor in and listen without prejudice to all sides of the story so that we really have an objective view and analyze it, but at the same time being mindful what is the legal aspect that we cannot undermine.
KT: You once said that Cambodia may face difficult times if there is a forced regime change or a change in government. Can you elaborate?
HM: I was born in 1982, way after the country had been liberated and the genocidal regime had been overthrown, although they remained until 1988 I was still able to live and grow without the fear of running away from place to place. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t know the lesson learned from our country. And if we look at it, it has not been long that this country has been able to stand on our own feet and be able to resurface on the international stage, most importantly because we have peace and stability.
So I think in the future, what our leaders have always tried to mention to us – not only as CPP but also for the generation to come – to always value peace and stability because you don’t know what kind of suffering that people may face. Also, peace and stability are very important to move forward, so that’s why youth play a very important role in terms of how to participate and to dynamically contribute to being part of the solution rather than the problem.
At the last election we have seen many aspects that certain entities call the youth to the street, calling for the overthrow of the government through force, through street protests. This can also degenerate into a situation where Cambodia becomes unstable. And with instability every aspect of daily life will be affected. Because of that, I think for opposition parties, opposition entities, the right to assembly is guaranteed under the constitution as long as you exercise that right within the framework of the constitution and also the legal mechanism that allows you to do, that is okay.
But once you are impinging and also stepping over the boundary of what the law allows you to do, I think the government has the responsibility and also the legitimate power and authority as given by the people to exercise its own authority to preserve peace and stability according to the rule of law and what allows it by legal means and also in the constitution as well. At the end of the day it is about the well-being of everyone, not only just a few, but again from our historical perspective and the lessons learned also not jeopardizing what as a country we have achieved until now and also the economic development that we have seen I think is growing at the moment, so keeping peace and stability is very important.
KT: When you’re dealing with the youth, and you deal a lot with young people, what are the common grievances expressed by young people, and how do you engage them and what do you tell them about the kind of future they can expect?
HM: I think there are many, and not only limited to Cambodia, but the types of grievances, either perceived or real, are similar in Cambodia to the rest of the world, in the region or globally. But nonetheless I believe that the government has done the best it can to address the existing issues and challenges. But I do believe, most importantly, the message to our youth is that any reform, any change, needs to be mindful of the timing.
And we need to be patient and we need to keep hoping with positive thinking that we can overcome. As a country and as a nation we have overcome many things already. But all challenges need time and hard work to move forward. I think there’s many issues that we need to consider.
KT: What does the future hold for young Cambodians, from their perspective?
HM: I want that in the future Cambodia will reach a level of development like those developed countries. But we need to be very pragmatic, we need to be really hopeful and we need to do the best with what we have in Cambodia. For example, I want to see Phnom Penh grow and become a metropolis like Singapore, but we need to have time, we need a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and most importantly we need the right leadership.
KT: These days a lot of people are Internet savvy. A lot of information is disseminated through social media, so how do people tell what’s true and what’s not?
HM: I think everything is about balance and everything is about education. The access to information and the evolution of information technology is right for our youth to have access to information, but nonetheless, as you pointed out, not every bit of information is credible, every bit of information is not constructive and some information allows you to propel yourself into a successful life.
But some information is just about distraction. So at the end of the day it is up to the youth to consider, to evaluate the information, but I think that what is important is we need to be able to educate our youth to be mindful of it, and that’s why I think education in school is very important. I think it will need a lot of education, not only in school but outside school, but as we have seen, not only limited to Cambodia, some type of information received not only in Internet but in other media can be really harmful to one’s life, to one’s family life, and for society as well.
KT: As a youth leader, how would you tackle social issues with youths, particularly in the rural areas?
HM: I think, as I mentioned, at every stage of development for Cambodia, but I’m sure not limited to Cambodia, the demands and the grievances are always different. In the aftermath of liberation, the most important thing was feeding the people. Also preserving the peace and stability, meaning the stability from falling back to the genocidal regime. As the country developed, I think peace and stability we have already received and the government has been able to manage enough so that it has been kept under control so that in the future we can actually focus on country development and infrastructure development but there are also other challenges not only in the cities but also throughout the country.
Again the key is education. Of course education will need a long time to actually sink in versus a more populist narrative that incites people to come out and be angered and be, at the end of the day, anti-establishment against the government, but these are just challenges that need time to resolve and there needs to be an incremental mechanism to resolve these bit by bit.
KT: Are you better known as the PM’s son or because of the youth movement?
HM: When I first started working it was always the prime minister’s son. And it took a few years to become Hun Many, because of the youth work, as a youth leader. But I think now, it depends on who I meet. For the youth, it’s usually a youth leader. For our people it’s a combination of youth leader and also prime minister’s son. But at end of the day I think I’m really happy now that most of the places I go to, it is just knowing about Hun Many – not parliamentarian, not youth leader, not prime minister’s son.
KT: Has it been a burden on you being your father’s son?
HM: Well, I have to say that I am happy being the son of not only a prime minister, but a prime minister who has sacrificed a lot and given so much to this country and delivered a concrete result, that is the most important thing. But of course it does offer a lot of opportunity as well as challenges. The opportunity is that in many aspects I can actually collaborate as a youth leader, allowing us to organize events and of course because of the name a lot of people give the opportunity for me at least to make an argument.
The challenge is things like a university student, who said to me ‘Hun Many is the son of a prime minister and he is rich’. My comment to her was very simple – did you know Hun Many five years ago? Had you heard of his name? So, it is about performing. Being the prime minister’s son offers a lot of opportunity but it is also a challenge because you have to deliver even more. You have to perform. Your credibility is always questioned. And there is always pre-judgment before you actually do anything.
I just keep reminding myself that I have to deliver more and I need to convince people that I’m not just the prime minister’s son but I’m just another Cambodian youth who is able to go out there and try to deliver as much as I can through volunteerism or other work in giving back to my country.
KT: Do you think there’s a lot of expectations on you because you are the prime minister’s son?
HM: I’m sure that there are. But I know there’s much I can do but there’s also a limitation on what I can do. What I always tell myself, and also as a team, that sometimes you need to trim back, but you need to be able to do what you can with what you have. You cannot actually try to have a big end goal pragmatically and expect to do it in one jump. So like I always say, my motto is you may not have money, but if you have the will you can donate blood because then it shows that you are actually able to do it.
But because of it there’s probably also the expectation that you’re the prime minister’s son and I will do the best that I can, not as the prime minister’s son, but what I can deliver back to society. If you put that expectation too high you are lying to yourself.  
This interview has been trimmed for length. The full-length video of this interview, and the full text version, can be seen on Khmer Times’ website,

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