Though one cannot take the recent election results completely seriously because of the violence, intimidation and vote-buying by the CPP, the poor performance of Funcinpec should be a lethal warning to the party. It is time for Funcinpec members to review the party's past performance and correct mistakes or risk the disappearance of the royalist party.
While one can sympathize with Prince Ranariddh after CPP disputed his victory in the 1993 election and forced him into an equal coalition with Hun Sen, it is also true that from that time the Prince followed almost no strategy to strengthen Funcinpec. Many of his actions have weakened Funcinpec, including the fact that he showed little interest to protest for key controlling state institutions. In 1994 his members pleaded with him to amend the draft law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy to ensure that the judiciary would be legally independent from CPP and Ministry of Justice, the key ministry in breaking the pattern of human rights violations and judicial misbehavior, as required by the Constitution, but Ranariddh was indifferent and then opposed to this.
The worst thing that Prince Ranariddh did was to side with his Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen by forcing Finance Minister Sam Rainsy from his post after one year on the job, a year in which the IMF praised his work and Asiaweek named him the region's second best finance minister. Shortly after taking office Rainsy was able to stabilize the currency exchange rate and collect tax worth of millions of dollars for the national treasury. He cracked down on major tax evaders. Rainsy publicly challenged corruption and the growing mafia in Cambodia.
Instead of defending and rewarding Rainsy for his good work for Funcinpec and the nation, Ranariddh expelled him from the party and the National Assembly against the wishes of most party members.
Nevertheless, many sympathized with the Prince for being expelled from power by his Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1997, and voted for Funcinpec in the 1998 election. Though his party won Phnom Penh constituency, Prince Ranariddh double-crossed the voters by giving away the governor's seat to Chea Sophara of the CPP. This undemocratic deal badly frustrated his voters, who believed that the Prince only cared for his personal interest at the expenses of people's lives.
Another political mistake Prince Ranariddh made was to encourage the unjust removal of Son Chhay as chairman of a National Assembly commission. To expel him in order to please the CPP means to hurt the Prince's own prestige and Funcinpec.
Recently, in the commune election campaign, Ranariddh was not clear in his political commitment to fight corruption and other key issues. Instead, he unwisely blasted Sam Rainsy as a national traitor. Voter reaction was indicated by the outcome of the commune council election. While everyone criticized the National Election Committee (NEC) for unfairly not broadcasting the political debates of the political parties, the Prince supported the NEC by saying that there was no need to broadcast the debate as it was a local election. Once he lost, he criticized the NEC as biased.
Many observers would agree that in public speeches Prince Ranariddh is just mouthing off without strategic objectives and careful thought. The Prince seems to take for granted that the fact that Funcinpec is a royalist party and was founded by the monarch would lead people to vote for the party without putting out a lot of effort. He should redefine this belief. No pain, no gain.
The Prince should realize that a government coalition partner need not be silent and cooperative with its partner all the time. Cooperation is a two-way street. It should take place only when it is consistent with the law, democratic rules and does not jeopardize the public interest.
Prince Ranariddh has proved to be a shortsighted politician who does not have the ability to lead the royalist party. Funcinpec has many good and capable people. But there are many more yes-men, who just follow orders to maintain their positions, which is the way that Ranariddh likes it. This approach means that strategically and politically there is no way that he can beat Prime Minister Hun Sen, who cannily uses all existing state institutions and private entities and means to retain power and control Cambodian politics - a true Machiavellian who believes that the ends justify the means. The reality is that to survive, Funcinpec has to replace Prince Ranariddh with a new, capable and intelligent leader or risk the disappearance of the royalist party.
ó Sum Sok Ry, Washington, DC