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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec continues its downhill run

Funcinpec continues its downhill run

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July 25, and the bad news hasn't even happened.

Funcinpec is talking tough in the aftermath of its latest election debacle, with

leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other top members uniformly declaring the party

would not enter another coalition with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

But the fact remains that many voters were clearly unwilling to give the royalists

another chance. The problems associated with Funcinpec being the weaker coalition

partner have been a factor in its decline, but most observers the Post spoke to expected

it would again join ranks with the CPP.

"They're in a state of denial right now," said one senior diplomat. "They

always have a tendency to criticize everyone but themselves. Then when that denial

period is over, they tend to point the finger at each other."

Preliminary results from the National Election Committee (NEC) show the royalists

managed to garner only 26 seats, their worst result yet. After winning 58 seats in

1993, the party lost 15 in 1998. This year it dropped another 17 seats.

The loss of more than half of its parliamentary seats in only a decade is ominous,

particularly since it claimed its dismal showing in last year's commune elections

would serve as a wake-up call.

But unlike the result of the commune elections, the 2003 outcome was more predictable.

The party was supposed to have realized that its royalist credentials could no longer

be used as a trump card. Funcinpec hit the campaign trail harder than before in the

run up to the July 27 poll, but the results suggest it had already lost much of its

grassroots support.

In February last year, it formed a task force to determine the reasons for the party's

sliding popularity and recommend an action plan. Yet no changes occurred, and some

feel the party lost much credibility with its remaining supporters when it failed

to oust You Hokry as co-Minister of Interior.

"I got the feeling that scandal and troubles within Funcinpec over [the course

of] 2002 has worsened its image and reputation," said political analyst Dr Lao

Mong Hay.

Party leaders have highlighted violence, intimidation, vote-rigging and vote-buying

as some of the main reasons for the continued slide at the polls. But that does little

to explain the rising popularity of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

Former Funcinpec deputy secretary general Kem Sokha, who had an acrimonious split

with Ranariddh after the failure to eject Hokry last year, stated the party should

not be disappointed with the 2003 result.

He predicted it still had a chance to end its slide, provided it cooperated with

the SRP and cleared out the corrupt officials.

"Funcinpec did very badly in this election, whether or not it was free and fair,"

said Sokha, who was on the party's reform task force.

"However, I noticed a change take place at the end of the campaign period, which

I thought was a bit too late to restore the fame of the party.The change was that

Funcinpec refused to form a coalition government with the ruling party."

Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs Mu Sochua said her party went into the

1998 coalition with the CPP in good faith, but admitted joining with the ruling party

was an error.

"Our mistake was to join Hun Sen in 1998. We paid very heavily-we did it for

the sake of the people," she said. "I can guarantee to you Funcinpec will

not make the same mistake [again]."

Sochua, one of several high profile Funcinpec candidates who could find themselves

without a parliamentary seat, acknowledged the party would have to do a better job

of interacting with its constituents if it hoped to rise again.

The lack of grassroots organization was cited by most as reason for Funcinpec's nose-dive.

At the same time, the CPP has been able to consolidate its power base, and the SRP

has developed a burgeoning network.

"There's more competition from the Sam Rainsy Party, and the CPP of course,"

said Dr Lao. "Furthermore, canvassing has become more sophisticated and Funcinpec

was not able to catch up with that kind of sophistication."

Funcinpec's Princess Norodom Vacheara said her party could learn many lessons from

the SRP, which has been far more successful in luring young voters.

"One thing I recognize is the Sam Rainsy Party keeps its voice growing,"

she said. "And that means maybe they're more firmly in the grassroots than Funcinpec

because they go very often to [visit]."

But Dr Lao expected the royalists would sign up again with the CPP, and felt there

would be no substantive changes in the party.

"If you're a politician, you want to help out and not just become an MP,"

he said. "You want the ministerial positions in government."

Vacheara said the party had learned its lesson, and could yet go into opposition

which would allow it to rebuild.

"I am sure that the Funcinpec party will not go back into a coalition alone

with the CPP with Hun Sen as Prime Minister again," she said. "If Funcinpec

decided to stay in opposition, it would survive and get stronger."

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