Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, known as a tough and canny politician during his more than three decades in power, is pitching himself as a repentant driving scofflaw. He turned up at a police station in Phnom Penh today to pay a 15,000 riel (USD 3.75) fine for driving a motorcycle without a helmet and license plate during a recent visit to the southern province of Koh Kong. He arrived on another motorcycle, accompanied by a phalanx of bodyguards on their own motorbikes.
On his Facebook page this past week he apologised after photos and videos of his ride drew criticism. He told reporters that even as prime minister he could not cite parliamentary immunity to avoid punishment, a dig at lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who complain of being stripped of their immunity after being targeted in the courts by Hun Sen.
“I hope that all people in Cambodia, regardless of whether poor, rich or powerful, whenever they committed wrongdoing against the law, they will face equal punishment before the law,” he said. He also praised the country’s traffic policemen for their dedication, not addressing the likelihood that they would not issue a citation to the country’s leader on their own initiative.
He criticised unnamed politicians whom he accused of not respecting the law and then appealing to foreign countries to help them. Human rights groups and Western governments have criticised Hun Sen’s government for its repression of its opponents, particularly through the courts, which are widely seen as politically biased.
Cambodia traditionally has been lax in enforcing traffic laws, but an upsurge in new drivers and roads has led to more accidents and consequently a crackdown in recent months. It is not the first time Hun Sen has promoted civic virtue, though he is better known as a master of political intrigue and strongman tactics.
In recent years he has become an anti-smoking activist, promoting the cause with the zeal of the former chain smoker he is.