If you’re the world’s longest-serving prime minister, you’re probably not the type to leave anything to chance. You’re also probably used to having control over most things in life—including the date on which you were born.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country under an increasingly tight grip since 1985, declared on Tuesday that he’s decided to switch his legal birthdate from April 4, 1951, to August 5, 1952—a date he said marked his real birthday.
Why would a 71-, er, 69-year-old man suddenly want to change his date of birth? Hun Sen thinks holding on to the wrong birthday may upset one’s standing with the Chinese zodiac.
His older brother, whose legal birthdate also differed from his real one, died of a heart attack earlier this month on May 5, ten days after returning from medical treatment in Singapore. The strongman leader believes his brother having two birthdays had to do with his demise, since one date put him under the Year of the Tiger instead of the Year of the Cow, his true zodiac sign.
The Chinese zodiac “should not be ignored,” said Hun Sen. So, he decided to revert to what he said was his actual date of birth in order to align himself with the cosmos and prevent any bad luck. All legal repercussions of the switch will be taken care of, he said.
It’s not uncommon for Cambodians older than 50 to have two birthdays, as many lost their official records during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. Many also altered their records to dodge military conscription throughout the 1980s, as conflict continued to rage between the government and ousted Khmer Rouge rebels.
Hun Sen holds a tight grip on Cambodia having virtually eliminated all political opposition, leaving the country under a de-facto one-party rule when the country’s only viable opposition was dissolved in 2017. The slightest hint of criticism, even on social media, can trigger a harsh response from law enforcement.
Continuing his family’s hold on the country, Hun Sen announced last December he was backing his son Hun Manet, a military general, to succeed him as prime minister.
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