A day after being awarded the fledgling Gusi Peace Prize in Manila, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, returned home to a hero’s welcome on Thursday.
Touching down at Phnom Penh International Airport in the early afternoon, Mr. Many was greeted by more than a thousand members of his Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), who escorted the ruling-party lawmaker along Russian Federation Boulevard in a procession of buses, motorbikes and tuk-tuks before arriving at Olympic Stadium, where a series of speakers and entertainers spent the next few hours feting the 32-year-old.
“Let me say congratulations: Today we have received the peace prize from the Philippines that was brought back by His Excellency Hun Many, president of the UYFC and a lawmaker from Kompong Speu province,” Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An told the audience members packed into the sports complex’s basketball arena.
According to the award’s website—which says the prize “approximate[s] the honor and respect accorded to the Nobel Peace Prize of Norway, and the Pulitzer of the United States of America”— Mr. Many was deemed worthy of the honor for his work in “Youth Leadership and Humanitarianism” and as an “Advocate of Cultural Heritage.”
Mr. Many was not alone in being awarded a Gusi prize this year. Eighteen others were honored for achievements in a range of fields, including three former heads of state, one of which was Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev—who was overthrown in 2005’s “Tulip Revolution” amid accusations of political oppression.
In his address to the crowd on Thursday, Mr. Many took the opportunity to hit back at critics of his father’s government.
“There are a lot of people, there is a lot of news if we search on the Internet…trying to embellish what is negative in the Kingdom of Cambodia. But for all of us who are here, the UYFC [and] the Cambodian people, we need to dare to say that we believe in the future of our country,” he said.
The program was replete with traditional dance performances, love ballads, a rendition of charity anthem “We Are the World,” and a beatbox version of the song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” made famous by the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing.”
Sitting outside the arena as singer Him Sivorn crooned on stage, UYFC member Kun Yuleng said the occasion was a gratifying moment for his organization.
“Today is a special day because we come to welcome [Mr. Many] like family,” said Mr. Yunleng, a fourth-year student at the Royal University of Law and Economics.
“He is the only Khmer son to ever win the Gusi prize. We are very proud.”
Despite the comparison to the Nobel Peace Prize made by its organizers, human rights activists in Cambodia said they knew nothing of the Gusi prize.
Suon Bunsak, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said he first heard about the award after seeing social media posts about Mr. Many being recognized. “I saw on Facebook, but I didn’t know what it was,” he said.
And while Mr. Bunsak acknowledged that Mr. Many had done much for “youth mobilization,” he said it was problematic that such a prominent member of the CPP was running one of Cambodia’s largest, supposedly nonpartisan, youth organizations.
“If you are a high-ranking leader of the confederation and you are a politician already, then it is not true [if] you claim you don’t have any expectations from your youth federation,” he said.
As uniformed UYFC members and Cambodian Scouts—many holding Cambodian flags—milled about near an entrance to the arena on Thursday, Chhour Sophana, 30, appeared unconcerned about any potential conflict between Mr. Many’s role as a ruling-party politician and a youth leader.
“He is my idol,” said Mr. Sophana, who also admitted that he had never heard of the Gusi prize. “In the future, if he just makes himself familiar and is close with the youth, he can win the Nobel Prize.”
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