No sooner did one voice say "merger" than a barrage of others spoke up
to give a resounding, "not likely".
SWEET NOTHINGS: Pictured here in 1997, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen share a long, rocky political past.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec, raised the idea of combining his
struggling royalist party with the ruling Cambodian People's Party as he emerged
from a meeting on December 23.
There is an advanced initiative to combine the two parties, Ranariddh told reporters
outside the National Assembly, but now is not the right time.
The union, if it were to happen, would occur before the 2008 national elections and
provide long-term political stability for the country, said the Prince.
Ranariddh said he had engaged in informal discussions with Prime Minister Hun Sen,
who is vice chairman of the CPP, over the proposal of merging to avoid the political
conflict that usually occurs before and after the elections.
If necessary, the CPP and Funcinpec will seek the support of their party members,
"We already had a plan [to merge] because Samdech Hun Sen and I already discussed
[it], but there is no deeper details at this time," said Ranariddh.
However, Heng Samrin, the CPP's Honorary President, told reporters on December 27
that he has rejected the proposal of a merger between the two main parties.
Samrin said there remains a spirit of good cooperation between the CPP and its partner
in the coalition government.
If there was a discussion of a merger between CPP and Funcinpec, it was just a personal
idea, and did not represent the party, he said.
He said that the cooperation between CPP and Funcinpec would continue unless the
royalist party found itself without enough seats in the National Assembly to help
the CPP form the constitutionally-required two-thirds majority.
"In generally, the CPP would not work with Sam Rainsy [for the formation of
a coalition government] unless Rainsy wins [significantly more seats] in the national
elections while Funcinpec has no representative in the National Assembly," said
Ranariddh's comments broadsided Funcinpec officials, several of whom said they had
no warning of the announcement.
However, a week after first flying the merger kite, Ranariddh continued to leave
his options open.
"Samdech Hun Sen and I used to share the idea about the formation of one giant
political party, but no decision has been made," Ranariddh said December 30.
One political insider, who requested anonymity to protect his position, said that
the merger between CPP and Funcinpec would only become reality if there is a split
within the ruling party.
He said that the merger talk related to the alleged factional rift between those
loyal to Hun Sen and those close to CPP party chairman Chea Sim.
Tensions surfaced in July this year when Chea Sim was escorted out of the country
after allegedly refusing to sign off on a deal to form a Hun Sen-led coalition government
The source said Ranariddh's comments were meant to imply that Chea Sim's faction
could be dropped from the CPP in the event of a union between Hun Sen and Ranariddh.
"I think that the merger [idea] was just the political message or warning to
ensure power inside the ruling party after mid-July when Chea Sim was forced to leave
the county," said the observer. "Hun Sen has been too long in power and
maybe lost support among their standing committee."
Funcinpec was created in the early 1980s by Ranariddh's father, retired King Norodom
Sihanouk, as a resistance movement. It became a political party in 1993 to challenge
the formerly communist CPP, which was installed following the Vietnamese invasion
in 1979 that toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.
Funcinpec won a UN-organized election in 1993 but was forced to share power with
the CPP when Hun Sen threatened to set up an autonomous zone covering most of the
provinces east of the Mekong.
Hun Sen took full control in 1997, but the two parties formed a coalition government
again following the 1998 election, which the CPP won.