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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bedfellows make strange politics

Bedfellows make strange politics

AMID shifting loyalties and disputes over party names, politicians are feeding off

the virtual corpses that are now Funcinpec and the BLDP, forming as they do some

odd alliances before the Mar 26 registration deadline.

One unusual amalgam is the Sangkum Thmei (New Society), led by former Funcinpec Secretary-General

Loy Sim Chheang, with senior Funcinpec figure Om Radsady. The party includes a top

former Khmer Rouge official, General Prum Su.

"It's a weird combination," said one longtime Cambodia watcher. Prum Su

defected in 1996 as part of a breakaway group led by former KR foreign minister Ieng

Sary. He is currently slated to become Stung Treng governor.

Contrary to earlier reports, Sary's top aide has not joined the party. Loy Sim Chheang

confirmed that Long Norin attended his Feb 1 party congress only as an observer.

However, the surprise arrival in Phnom Penh on Feb 8 of Ieng Sary excited speculation

about the political future of the KR defectors.

Sary said his visit to the capital was for personal reasons, but also told Agence

France-Presse: "I will not participate in the coming elections, but DNUM members

are free to join any political party".

Loy Sim Chheang said that Prum Su might be able to help convince his nephew, resistance

general Nhek Bun Chhay, to end his resistance against the government.

Another party with a Khmer Rouge connection - albeit a distant one - is Nguon Soeur's

Khmer Citizen Party (KCP). At a Feb 7 party congress, the KCP elected the brother

of KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan as a vice president.

But Khieu Seng Kim, now a newspaper editor, is not Khmer Rouge like his brother,

Nguon Soeur said.

Khieu Seng Kim said he hates communism and had not seen his brother in 30 years,

though still respected him "as a brother that came from the same mother".

But "in the political way my brother and I are much different".

He added that during the Pol Pot regime, when he wrote on a curriculum vitae who

his brother was, Angkar officials chided him: "In the revolution, you have no

brothers and sisters. You are not a revolutionary man."

Seng Kim had no prior political affiliation, but Soeur and several of his fellow

senior party members - including MPs Sotr Soy, Kong Sophat, and Nop Lean - have defected

from Funcinpec.

Another new 'quasi-Funcinpec' is the Riastr Niyum (Populism) party formed Feb 1 by

First Prime Minister Ung Huot and former Funcinpec dean Nady Tan. "All of us

are former steering committee members of Funcinpec," Nady Tan noted, but he

said that the party could not register under the royalist banner without self-exiled

Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who holds the unique position of "historical

leader" under party bylaws.

Nady Tan said: "Based on the current situation, the Funcinpec political party

is very uncertain... so we decided to start a new party."

Still other former Funcinpec members, led by Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay, have formed

the Ruup Ruom Cheat (National Union) party. Chay said his party included the "same

people" who broke away from Funcinpec last April, including MPs Doung Khem and

Ung Phan.

The provincial governor at one point considered himself Funcinpec president - after

a renegade 'party congress' vote - but he feels that he can no longer use the Funcinpec

name because of the ongoing factional squabbles.

"The law says no party should have an army, no fighting, no separate control

zone...With this name [Funcinpec] I carry the burden of going against the law,"

he said.

Meanwhile, Funcinpec co-Interior Minister You Hockry is reportedly also mulling a

new party of his own, but would only say of his intentions: "I'm not sure."

Members of the quasi-Funcinpecs all admitted that their party platforms do not differ

much from their original party's. "We do not try to copy one from the other,

but they are similar. Most of the ideas are very close to Funcinpec," Nady Tan

said.

Although the splinter parties will presumably split the voter base between them,

none indicated they would definitely campaign with Ranariddh should he return. However,

all hinted they would be willing to partner with either Funcinpec or the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) after the election.

Use of the widely-recognizable Funcinpec name now appears to be in undisputed possesion

of Prince Ranariddh and his remaining supporters, who have filed for registration

at the Ministry of Interior, You Hockry said. The CPP has also already submitted

the required papers to the ministry.

It appears another well-known name, the Buddhist Liberal Democracy Party (BLDP),

will not be appearing on ballots this July.

An appellate court recently upheld a lower court ruling giving the BLDP name to Information

Minister Ieng Mouly's faction, but the rival faction led by the party founder's son,

Son Soubert, plans to continue its legal battle, effectively rendering the name unusable

for this year's polls.

"We will take this legal matter as far as possible," Son Soubert said.

"Finally, if we lose, we will change the name." Of the Dharma Thipatay

(Teaching Democracy) party recently registered by his parliamentary ally Thach Reng,

Soubert said: "This party is just in case we don't win the court case."

Despite his court victories, Ieng Mouly will most likely have to settle for campaigning

under a new name, the Buddhist Liberal Party.

"We didn't [completely] win [the court cases]," he said, noting that only

a Supreme Court verdict is final and that could take another two months.

"The people will choose the party which will form a coalition with CPP... we

can form a very good coalition with CPP."

The spat between the two BLDP factions resurfaced on the National Assembly floor

on Feb 10 as Son Soubert claimed his seat as an Assembly vice president for the first

time since fleeing the July fighting.

Ieng Mouly supporter Lay Y Pisith demanded Son Soubert should "bow down"

and apologize to the Assembly for his denunciation of the Phnom Penh government while

in self-exile.

A heated debate including Son Soubert, Ieng Mouly and Defense Minister Tea Banh ensued

over whether the July fighting was "a coup d'etat" by CPP-loyal forces,

as Soubert maintained, or a "suppression of anarchic forces", as Tea Banh

contended.

The session resumed after Mouly and his four BLDP allies stormed out in protest.

"[Soubert] has said we are illegal. He must retract this or we will continue

to boycott Assembly meetings," Mouly said while leaving.

Name games have also dogged the Khmer Nation Party led by Sam Rainsy, who recently

claimed that the rash of splits among opposition parties are being masterminded by

the CPP.

Outside a KNP vs KNP court hearing Feb 9, which ended inconclusively when the judge

did appear, Rainsy brandished a letter he said proved the collusion of the CPP with

renegade KNP leader Kong Mony.

"The secretary-general of Kong Mony told me that he received money from [Interior

co-Minister] Sar Kheng, from the CPP," he claimed. "I sent a letter to

Sar Kheng and Hun Sen... telling them that I would come to court today and reveal

the CPP's scandal that it had hired Kong Mony to disturb the KNP." Interior

Ministry and renegade KNP officials have denied the charges.

While splinter groups from Funcinpec and the BLDP have been led by high-profile Assembly

and government figures, diplomats from nations planning to fund this year's election

privately said they will be very disturbed if Kong Mony's party wins the use of the

KNP name.

The issue has reignited Rainsy's attacks on CPP, the party he recently said he is

strongly considering joining in a post-election ruling alliance.

Just weeks after stating Hun Sen would be welcome at a first anniversary commemoration

of the March 30 grenade attack that killed at least 17 KNP supporters and bystanders,

Rainsy sharply attack the Second Prime Mnister and his party outside the Municipal

Court.

"They are cowards," Rainsy charged of the CPP. "They dare only to

kill innocent people. They are afraid to face law-abiding people using legal means."

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