After receiving the endorsement of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as its future candidate for the Kingdom’s top office, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet immediately came under attack by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who alleged that his degree from the US Military Academy at West Point was somehow “second class”.
Manet currently holds the rank of three-star or lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), where he serves as deputy commander-in-chief and commander of the army’s infantry.
Rainsy, former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), spoke about Manet on December 25 in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), just one day after Manet’s party endorsement as successor to his father at the CPP Central Committee meeting on December 24.
“When they give degrees to the children of foreign leaders whose fathers are senior officials like prime minister, they just let them pass without actually doing the work. The degrees given to high-ranking officials from other countries are just to maintain good diplomatic relations,” Rainsy told RFA.
Manet took issue with similar statements by Rainsy back in 2019, daring him to place a wager over the truth of the matter pertaining to the nature of his education. He asked whether Rainsy believed that the New York University where he received a Masters in economics and the Bristol University in the UK where he obtained his PhD in the same field also had policies that granted unearned degrees to foreign dignitaries.
“If Sam Rainsy can get these three universities to show any proof that Hun Manet was unqualified with an academic performance beneath these schools’ standards or that Hun Manet received second-class degrees of some sort, then I will decline my party’s nomination as candidate for prime minister.
“If Sam Rainsy cannot get these universities to show some proof that the degrees they issued to Hun Manet are second-class ... Sam Rainsy should permanently retire from politics today,” Manet dared Rainsy in his Facebook post on December 28.
Manet further said he will even assist Rainsy by sending a team to work with those universities to find out the truth and that he would sign any documents the universities required in order to disclose his private academic records.
He added that media outlets like Voice of America and RFA should also cover this process since they were the outlets broadcasting Rainsy’s attacks on his character in the first place.
“I hope that a veteran politician like Sam Rainsy is brave enough to defend his claims which he has made now and again in his attacks [against me]. Sam Rainsy has been attacking my father for many decades and he failed miserably at it. Now, he turns to me, hoping our family’s younger generation will prove to be a softer target,” Manet said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen echoed Manet’s assertions on December 28 and observed the irony of the situation, saying it was like a young boy who finds he is forced to give advice to an old man.
“This is good. It’s like a young calf running circles around an old worn-out bull. If you are angry, don’t play. And if you play, don’t get angry. I send this message to a certain veteran politician who lacks any bravery or responsibility,” Hun Sen said in a Facebook post.
Rainsy did not respond to The Post’s inquiries before press time on December 28, but back in 2019 when he made the same accusations, he stood by his claims.
“There is an official facade with certificates outlining general principles for diplomatic reasons. But there are ‘de facto second-class’ graduates and diplomas associated with easier admission for those special applicants.
“In the US and Europe, this kind of diploma is reserved for foreign students with weaker intellectual backgrounds but interesting political connections. Such practices are a fact that nobody can deny,” he told The Post at the time.
The US Military Academy at West Point issued a press statement in 2019 in response to the controversy Rainsy’s allegations had stirred up.
“Lieutenant General Hun Manet of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in May, 1999. He received a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in economics,” Christopher Ophardt, the director of Public Affairs and Communications at West Point said in an email, while also noting that the institution does not give out unearned or “second class” degrees to anyone, nor does it have an easier admissions process for foreign students.
Political analyst Seng Sary said Cambodia’s political disputes are apparently being handed down from generation to generation.
“I always thought that the political conflicts of the past would be solved by bringing in a new generation of leaders who don’t bear the grudges of their elders. But now both old and new generations continue their war of words. I think any solution to the conflict between the CPP and former CNRP will likely drag on for a long time,” he said.
He said this new topic of controversy was not much different from all of the previous ones and both sides were too much in the habit of launching personal attacks instead of starting dialogue.
Other analysts suspect that Rainsy was simply “trolling” Manet by making insincere and obviously dubious accusations that most people will immediately recognise as false but that he was hoping would inspire an angry reaction from Manet in response.
“I can confirm to you that Sam Rainsy’s statements about higher education in the US aren’t just wrong – they are absurd and he knows that. I hope that future politicians will focus on competing on their policy platforms, discussing ideas and leaving these old disputes behind,” said Ou Virak, president of the think tank Future Forum.