Cambodian premier turns to Facebook Livestream for more “likes”

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Phnom Penh (dpa) – Cambodia’s Premier Hun Sen streamed a live video address over Facebook late Thursday, the latest social media initiative by the long-serving leader to connect with his youthful electorate.

A glitch led to the midnight session opening with the prime minister walking out of shot to take a phone call, apparently unaware he was already live, before coming back 90 seconds later and telling Cambodians not to worry about a nationwide blackout.

But the event was still popular, as the clip received 25,000 likes and 210,000 views within 10 hours.

Experts say Hun Sen, in power since 1998, is working out how to connect with younger voters in a country where people under 30 make up 63 per cent of the population.

“The political game changers in the 2018 [general] election are Facebook users who are new voters,” said Ou Ritthy, co-founder of youth political network Politikoffee.

“So I think Hun Sen is doing a great job with his Facebook videos” to reach them, he told dpa.

It was the second time Hun Sen has used Facebook’s new Livestream feature since October 12, after an earlier 45-minute talk criticising his rival Sam Rainsy.

He has used videos before, to wish citizens well for a public holiday, or comment on political violence, but the live broadcasts mark a departure.

Despite their often amateurish quality, his videos have scored from 35,000 to 380,000 views each.

Cambodia only has around 5 million internet subscribers – around 30 per cent of the population – including 3 million with Facebook accounts, according to data from the government and the social media site.

But Facebook and other online news have overtaken radio as the second most popular source of news behind television, according to recent research by USAID, the Asia Society, and local NGO Open Institute.

Hun Sen is following in the footsteps Sam Rainsy, whose made significant ground in the 2013 election after moving to court young voters via Facebook.

Rainsy typically receives between 7,000 and 40,000 likes for his posts, which are often accompanied by photos and an English translation.

Rainsy may have a headstart on social media, in particular with urban youth, but Hun Sen’s embracing of Facebook shows he is honing his previously old-school tactics, according to Ou Virak, founder of the independent think tank Future Forum.

“I think he [now] understands the Cambodian youth do not turn to the TV, or listen to long speeches at his events,” Virak told dpa, referring to Hun Sen’s penchant for making hours-long political speeches at high school graduations and other youth events.

“I think this is a much more appropriate way of trying to get his message out.”

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