|Deputy Prime Minister Sok An speaks at an event in Phnom Penh in 2015. Vireak Mai|
Mech Dara, Jovina Chua and Erin Handley
Wed, 15 March 2017
Furious speculation continued to circulate yesterday about the failing health of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, with security guards at his Phnom Penh home reporting his children had rushed to his bedside.
The guards, who spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity, said Sok An had been abroad since the New Year and that his five children were now with him, though they could not say where.
Fuelling conjecture further yesterday was the notable absence of Prime Minister Hun Sen at a groundbreaking event in Kampong Speu, with one Cambodia-based Chinese-language newspaper reporting the premier had flown to be by Sok An’s side.
Rumours about Sok An’s well-being were also stoked by the “Samdech” honorific bestowed on him late on Monday.
One foreign language outlet – Le Petit Journal – yesterday reported Sok An had passed away after a long illness, citing an unnamed source, but Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied that account yesterday morning.
“For me, I learned that he is OK; he did not pass away yet. We checked [Monday] night,” Siphan said.
Vei Samnang, Kampong Speu provincial governor, said Interior Minister Sar Kheng appeared at the National Road 51 inauguration in the premier’s stead yesterday, saying the premier had “necessary work to do abroad”.
“In fact, it was supposed to be Samdech [Hun Sen], but because there is an urgent [situation], he had to go [abroad],” Samnang said.
The Chinese-language article published in the Commercial News said the prime minister had flown by private jet to Singapore on Monday morning “to visit Sok An who is receiving medical treatment” and had cancelled his schedule between March 13 and 15. But Swift News – a Khmer-language web outlet – reported Sok An was in fact in Beijing.
Numerous high-ranking CPP members and people close to Sok An’s family either declined to comment or could not be reached yesterday to answer questions on his health and whereabouts – though some denied he was in Singapore.
Sok An, 66, who is often described as Hun Sen’s right-hand man, is also minister for the Office of the Council of Ministers and a member of the Cambodian People’s Party’s permanent committee. He has battled health issues for months.
Siphan yesterday added that friends and family were continuing to pray for Sok An, which he stressed was simply “a Cambodian custom – when he is sick, wish him better”.
“He deserves to have that [title of Samdech]; he’s been serving the public since 1979,” Siphan said of the newly bestowed title, adding Sok An has held a vast range of positions throughout his political career, including roles in foreign affairs, border disputes, the Apsara Authority and in establishing the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Sok An’s elevation to Samdech status which translates to “Lord” in English puts him in an elite group of seven non-royals. Only Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany; National Assembly President Heng Samrin; Interior Minister Sar Kheng; Senate President Say Chhum; and Minister of the Royal Palace Kong Sam Ol also hold the title.