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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec chiefs eye up top positions

Funcinpec chiefs eye up top positions

FUNCINPEC officials admit several hurdles - most importantly, lack of money - remain

to be overcome before the party can hold an extraordinary congress to elect a new

president and prepare for next year's elections.

"It could be this year if we have enough financial support. It's a matter of

time - it might be November, it might be later," said Funcinpec Dean Nady Tan.

"The party is shaken. Most of the members are spread all over. Even the Steering

Committee's 33 members, we don't know where they are exactly."

The plans to hold a Congress follow the return of senior Funcinpec leaders from visiting

the King in Beijing, where they pledged to settle their party differences.

"The congress is to show to the public that we are a reunited family,"

said Toan Chay, the Siem Reap governor who led a Funcinpec breakaway earlier this

year.

Chay was proclaimed party president - replacing Prince Norodom Ranariddh - at a June

1 congress held by the dissidents.

Chay still claims he is the president but another Funcinpec faction, that of Loy

Sim Chheang and Nady Tan - who have also abandoned Ranariddh to work with Hun Sen's

new government - are not so sure.

"Well, that's what he says. I have no comment on that, " said Nady Tan

about Toan Chay's leadership claim.

Nady Tan said that the presidency, as well as party by-laws and the Funcinpec logo,

which currently bears Ranariddh's portrait, will be put to a vote at the congress.

According to party by-laws, Ranariddh is still the legal president of Funcinpec until

he is voted out. Both Nady Tan and Toan Chay say Ranariddh is welcome at the congress.

Ung Huot - whose nomination to replace Ranariddh as First Prime Minister was supported

by both Funcinpec factions which remain in Cambodia - said the party would soon be

united again.

"On the trip to Beijing, both of them, Toan Chay and Nady Tan, promised in front

of the King that we will be together again and organize a congress to elect a new

president. Whoever the president will be, I don't know," said Ung Huot Aug 15.

Nady Tan has ruled out himself and Minister of Mines, Energy and Industry, Pou Sothirak,

as presidential candidates. Other obvious front-runners for the post, besides Toan

Chay, would include Ung Huot and acting chairman of the National Assembly, Loy Sim

Chheang.

The selection of a new president will be difficult, according to Nady Tan, given

the party's royalist history. "Funcinpec was a party founded by the King. It's

a royalist party. To administer the party there should be a Royal family. This is

the most important characteristic of the party," Nady Tan said.

Meanwhile, senior Funcinpec leaders are keeping a closed lid on discussions within

the party over the replacement of the 14 Funcinpec MPs and 19 members of the government

who are absent.

The majority of missing MPs are absent from the National Assembly without permission

but have up to three months to return before their seats fall vacant.

Members of the government who are not MPs can be replaced sooner, at the discretion

of the First Prime Minister and the party's steering committee, said Nady Tan.

According to several senior government sources, intense jockeying within the party

for government and civil service positions has already begun, with Toan Chay insisting

on positions for those who supported his initial breakaway.

Toan Chay has thrown his own hat into the ring for the post of former Minister of

Agriculture Tao Seng Hour, who has announced his retirement.

"I have made a request to Hun Sen and Ung Huot to be the Minister of Agriculture,"

said Toan Chay, claiming that both had agreed to his bid for the portfolio.

Nady Tan denied that refilling government portfolios is a "priority" for

the party, and said he was confident that many of those now absent will return to

Cambodia.

"These people are telling us that they are coming, so why should we break our

hearts to replace them," he said.

It might be a long wait. Some of those listed as absent have been reported dead,

while others - who have maintained their loyalty to Prince Ranariddh - are fearful

of returning.

"I don't think I can go back now. As long as my country is not ruled by law,

I can't put myself in danger," said Ahmad Yahya, a Funcinpec MP now in Thailand.

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