A glossy biopic of Prime Minister Hun Sen that premiered with much fanfare on Cambodian television last night has divided public opinion, with critics suggesting the documentary amounts to propaganda.
The 90-minute film, titled Marching Towards National Salvation, was also broadcast on social media, where it has so far clocked up more than 100,000 views.
Dramatic music accompanies the video, with Hun Sen frequently tearing up as he talks about defecting from the Khmer Rouge in 1977 and crossing into Vietnam, returning years later and re-taking Phnom Penh along with Vietnamese forces on January 7, 1979.
There are glaring historical omissions in the piece – for example, there is no mention of Pen Sovann, the first prime minister to be installed by the Vietnamese, who later became an opposition lawmaker. Hun Sen’s close political allies Heng Samrin and Chea Sim, however, are presented as key players.
There is also no mention of the significant aid given to the Khmer Rouge by China, currently Cambodia’s biggest donor, but there are several references to Hun Sen fighting against the “foreign invasion” of US bombing.
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy called the omissions “an insult to history” and to the Cambodian people.
“The worst authoritarian regimes always promote [a] personality cult, which in turn leads to [the] distortion of historical facts,” he said. “This is nothing but pure and cheap propaganda that can be easily and expediently reshaped any time to suit the political objectives of the propagandists.”
However Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan defended the historical narrative.
“The prime minister said it, so we understand that it is accurate,” he said.
Online reactions varied, with some Facebook users accusing it of whitewashing history. Others, however, praised the premier, saying the documentary “shows the truth about the real history which Cambodian leaders went through”.
Updates to come.