Prime Minister Hun Sen has struck another blow in his running social media popularity battle with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, surpassing the Cambodia National Rescue Party president’s number of likes on Facebook, though the opposition has suggested “fake accounts” could have played a role.
As of yesterday, the premier’s personal Facebook page, which he officially endorsed in September, stood at 2.11 million likes, leading Rainsy’s, which sits at 2.09 million.
Belying his significant injection of resources and energy into social media – which many analysts see as a strategy to counter the opposition party’s success with younger voters – the prime minister yesterday denied that there was any competitive component to his prolific online activity of late.
“I have used Facebook in the social interest, to know about citizen’s lives and to give them an opportunity to be closer with me,” Hun Sen, wrote on his Facebook page, which he said he used to “resolve national problems” and “help” people.
“I do not use this social network to compete with anyone”, he added.
The CNRP’s use of social media, to bypass the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s domination of many traditional outlets, was considered a factor in its surprise surge in the 2013 election, when it captured 55 of 123 parliamentary seats.
Since endorsing his page, the prime minister has become a prolific Facebook user, mixing announcements and public service advice with intimate photos, old shots from his years in power and clips of him mingling with the people.
Among the latest installments in his ongoing charm offensive are snaps of the premier chewing the fat with cyclo drivers outside his Phnom Penh villa, eating food from a street vendor and checking his smartphone at home in his bathrobe.
Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile to avoid prison on charges widely believed politically motivated, is also doubling down on his social media activity in a bid to stay connected to supporters at home.
Responding yesterday, CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang played down the competition, though made reference to the creation of “fake accounts” to bolster likes, a tactic known to be used by some on Facebook.
“We don’t analyse this issue,” Chhay Eang said, adding it was up to social media to assess the value of different news sources on Facebook.