Alex Willemyns

Australian journalist in Cambodia, covering politics at The Cambodia Daily (2013-16) and Phnom Penh Post (2016-17) and freelancing.

Selected articles


April 2015 Prime Minister Hun Sen bites into some of Cambodia's Guinness World Record-winning giant sticky rice cake (num ansorm) during Cambodian New Year celebrations near Angkor Wat.

December 2013 Opposition leader Sam Rainsy calls on Hun Sen to stand down during a protest after the July 2013 national election in Siem Reap province. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had called a new election days earlier, so Rainsy called on Hun Sen not to be “weaker than a woman”. The protests were violently suppressed less than a month later, with at least five people shot dead.

May 2017 Opposition leader Kem Sokha campaigns for the June 2017 commune elections in Kompong Chhnang province. Rainsy and Sokha merged their competing opposition parties into the Cambodia National Rescue Party in July 2012, and Sokha took over as the leader after Rainsy was forced to step down by legal changes passed by the government. He led the party to unprecedented gains at the local elections.

July 2013 Prime Minister Hun Sen's youngest son, Hun Many, presents a finger stained with indelible ink after voting in the July 2013 national election at Kompong Speu province's Chbar Mon City. Many, who was then 30 and had recently completed a Master's in international relations at the University of Melbourne, was elected as a lawmaker running on the ticket of his father's ruling party.

June 2013 Cambodia's first prime minister after the January 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge, Pen Sovann, poses outside a Vietnamese restaurant in Phnom Penh a month before the July 2013 election. Sovann won a seat as an opposition lawmaker in Kompong Speu, marking his return to public life after being purged from the ruling party in 1981 and jailed in Hanoi until 1991. Sovann mostly ate Vietnamese food even though he — like many in the opposition — remained distrusting of the Vietnamese. He died in 2016.

January 2015 Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who led the royalist Funcinpec to victory at the U.N.-run May 1993 elections before being ousted by Hun Sen as "first prime minister" in July 1997, speaks at a Funcinpec congress on Phnom Penh's Koh Pich. It marked his return to the party leadership (with the approval of Hun Sen) almost a decade after he was forced out (also with the approval of Hun Sen).

December 2014 Political commentator Kem Ley teaches grass-roots campaigning in Battambang province. While alive, he saved some of his most cutting criticism for Hun Sen but also chastised the opposition for its democratic failures. Kem Ley was well known for the fables he wrote in the weeks before his death. He was shot dead from point-blank range while drinking coffee in Phnom Penh in July 2016.

July 2014 Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen shake hands after signing a deal that ended a year of political deadlock and protests. Interior Minister Sar Kheng stands between them. To the left of Rainsy is the opposition's Yim Sovann, Yem Ponhearith, Pol Ham and Kem Sokha. To the right of Hun Sen stands the opposition's Kuoy Bunroeun, Eng Chhay Eang and Son Chhay, and the ruling party's Cheam Yeap.

Kem Sokha later admitted to having opposed the deal. Most observers said they believed it would come back to bite the opposition, and it did so quickly. By November 2015, Rainsy fled back to Paris to avoid a new arrest warrant and Sokha was arrested and jailed in September 2017 for "treason".

April 2015 Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen attend new year celebrations in Siem Reap province, at the height of their short-lived detente awkwardly titled “the culture of dialogue.” Many believed Hun Sen was only interested in staving off intense pressure against him... until he could strike back—and the following year he was once again ordering the arrest and jailing of activists and opposition lawmakers.

January 2014 As Hun Sen watches on, Vietnam's then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung presses button to lay down the first pillar of a bridge to link Cambodia to Vietnam in Svay Ring province. Vietnam installed Hun Sen in power in 1985, and the premier is a fluent speaker of Vietnamese. This has led opponents to depict him as a servant of Cambodia's historical enemy — but he has said Cambodia should be grateful to Vietnam for ousting Pol Pot, and his party has labelled the opposition as xenophobic.

August 2015 Facebook "celebrity" Thy Sovantha, who rose to fame as an opposition campaigner during the 2013 election but defected to support Hun Sen in 2016, takes a selfie from atop a post marking the Cambodian-Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province. The opposition said the border was being violated by Vietnam and led about 5,000 people on buses from Phnom Penh to inspect the area.

August 2015 Opposition lawmakers Um Sam An, Real Camerin, Cheam Channy and Nuth Rumduol stand atop a border post at the Vietnamese border during the same trip. Sam An was arrested a year later for his border-related politicking and remains in jail. Channy, who was jailed in the mid-2000s for allegedly starting a private army after being named "shadow defense minister", died in October 2018.

August 2015 Thugs armed with sticks (but backed by Cambodian soldiers) prevent the 5,000 opposition supporters from reaching the Vietnamese border during the trip. The group later relented and allowed 100 people among the group to reach the border posts, which lay in the middle of a rice paddy.

May 2014 Soldiers protect a roadblock in Kompong Cham town to prevent Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha leading a campaign trip through the city during minor elections for district and provincial administrative councils. One soldier manned a machine gun mounted to the top of a truck. The campaigners decided not to try their luck, and moved onward to Tbong Khmum and Kratie provinces.

December 2014 Kem Sokha speaks to supporters in Kandal province to try to sell the July 2014 political deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen, which he later admitted he had privately opposed. In the first major public speech by an opposition leader since the deal ended the government's repression of their party, he pled with the group not to become demoralized by compromise with the ruling party.

March 2014 Pol Pot's only child, Sar Patchata, is married in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Malai in Banteay Meanchey province. To the right of the couple, who met studying in Kuala Lumpur, is Pol Pot's widow, Mea Som. To their left is Pol Pot's former chief aide and now Patchata's step-father, Tep Khunnal. A French-educated engineer, Khunnal was Cambodia's deputy ambassador to the UN in the 1980s for the Khmer Rouge and developed an interest Peter Drucker's theory of management.

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