MUSICAL CHAIRS: Nhiek Bun Chhay, front left, Keo Puth Rasmey, center, and Prince Sisowath Sirirath, right, at the hastily convened special Funcinpec congress that exalted Prince Norodom Ranariddh to the position of historical president.
fter more than 10 years of repeated political setbacks, including defeats at the
polls, party defections, accusations of poor leadership, and military debacles resulting
in the deaths of many Funcinpec loyalists, the Royalist Funcinpec party has voted
to replace its president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
At an extraordinary Congress held on October 18, party members voted to replace the
prince with Keo Puth Reasmy, currently Cambodian Ambassador to Germany. Reasmy is
married to King Father Norodom Sihanouk's youngest daughter, Princess Norodom Arunrasmy.
Initially elected to the post in 1992, Ranariddh led the party to a stunning electoral
victory in the UNTAC-sponsored elections in May, 1993, after which he subsequently
became First Prime Minister of Cambodia until his violent ouster in July 1997.
Since then, the party's fortunes have continuously faltered with repeated declines
in the number of National Assembly seats won in national elections in 1998 and 2003,
and a substantial thrashing in commune elections in 2004.
More recently, the party was earlier this year jolted when Prime Minister Hun Sen
sacked then-Co-Minister of Interior Norodom Sirivuth and Co-Minister of Defense Nhiek
Bun Chay - a move that caused Ranariddh to resign from his position as president
of the National Assembly on March 14.
The firings came amid thinly veiled public accusations by Hun Sen that Ranariddh
was making political appointments of unqualified individuals, and that his mistress,
Ouk Phalla, was a moral embarrassment.
Since then, Ranariddh has spent most of his time out of the country, and announced
that he and his wife of 38 years, Princess Marie, will divorce.
Sources say one of the reasons Hun Sen became so embittered towards Ranariddh is
that in December 2005, Hun Sen and Bun Rany attended the marriage of Ranariddh's
daughter, Princess Norodom Rattana. The gala affair was held at Ranariddh's home
down Route 1 on the Mekong. In part because it rained that night, Hun Sen spent almost
three hours at the wedding dinner, a courtesy deemed highly significant in Cambodian
One week later, when Hun Sen's eldest son Manit was married, Ranariddh and his wife,
Princess Marie, attended the wedding dinner at Hun Sen's. But halfway through the
event Ranariddh was telephoned by his mistress and left the dinner party abruptly,
forcing his wife to leave as well to avoid public embarrassment for the couple.
Hun Sen and his wife are said to have been terribly incensed by Ranariddh's behavior
and the loss of face he caused Princess Marie.
The sackings by Hun Sen of Funcinpec officials in the executive branch began after
the wedding snafu.
The whole problem was compounded by Ranariddh's mistress using her access with the
prince to force through political appointees of individuals who were incompetent.
Party sources say that one undersecretary of state appointed by Ranariddh had previously
been responsible for polishing the prince's shoes.
Even Nhiek Bun Chhay, Funcinpec's secretary general, is said to have been bewildered
by Funcinpec senior-level political appointees he met in the provinces who had almost
no record of service to the party.
At the very least, the latest wrinkles in the Hun Sen-Ranariddh relationship are
only a small part of a long and terribly rocky affair. But Bun Chhay told reporters
at a press conference on October 17 that he expects the deteriorating relationship
between the coalition partners to move forward with a renewed spirit of collaboration.
On September 18, Hun Sen called for Funcinpec to replace its president and suggested
that he could only work with Bun Chhay.
"A small group of party members created a problem in the coalition government
and made no justice because those looked for their own benefit, and caused problems
with the CPP," Bun Chhay said. "The problem had to be immediately resolved."
Bun Chhay said that the cooperation between CPP and Funcinpec broke down and the
two main parties could not continue to work as partners in the current coalition
"We don't want to oust the prince, but if we don't do it Funcinpec is in more
difficulties than the current situation," Bun Chhay said. "I was a compromiser
and the cooperation between Samdech Hun Sen and Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh
Funcinpec, the French acronym of the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral,
Peaceful, Economic and Cooperative Cambodia, was founded by King Father Norodom Sihanouk
in 1981 in Paris.
Bun Chhay said that Funcinpec subsequently had a problem and it must immediately
reform its structure by the enlargement the party's National Council to at least
600 members and the party's Steering Committee to 53 members. Ranariddh's portrait
has been removed from the party's logo, and he has been given the title of "Historic
"It is come to a point when our former President, Prince Norodom Ranariddh,
is not able to perform his duty, because he has been living abroad so long and he
has no more good collaboration with our partner CPP," newly appointed second
vice president Prince Sisowath Sirirath said.
Ok Socheat, Prince Ranariddh's public affairs adviser, told the Post on October 19
that Bun Chhay had made a coup against the president, but Bun Chhay denied the allegation.
Socheat said Bun Chhay was a traitor and will bring Funcinpec down in the commune
elections scheduled for April 1, 2007.
Socheat said he will file a complaint with the Ministry of Interior on October 20
alleging that the selection of new Funcinpec president was illegal. If the MoI refuses
to act on the complaint, Socheat says a lawsuit will be filed.
"The prince phones me almost every day and asked me to prepare for a new party
if he loses in the court," Socheat said. "Without the prince Funcinpec
will dissolve like the Son Sann party."
Serei Kosal, a senior Funcinpec official, told the Post that Ranariddh's ouster was
irregular and contrary to the party's internal regulations.
"I do not support the new president, and the ouster of the prince from his position
... will make the grassroots supporters confused in voting for Funcinpec," Kosal
said. "Now we can see clearly that there are serious divisions in the party
and we will lose in the elections."
But Bun Chhay said the by-laws of the party include a stipulation that the president
or one-third of the members of the party's National Council can call for an extraordinary
Keo Puth Rasmey said he will finish his mission as Ambassador to Germany and will
resign when there is "a right time... in order to come to work for the party."
He said that it is too early to say whether King Father Norodom Sihanouk will or
will not support his son Ranariddh's removal.
"The father always said that he keeps away from the political career,"
Rasmey worked on Prince Norodom Sihanouk's personal staff in the 1980s. In 1990 in
Bangkok he married Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, a daughter of Sihanouk. For a few
years he was in charge of the international politics section of the Funcinpec office
in Bangkok and in 1994 was appointed head of the king's secretariat. He was also
ambassador to Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
Khieu Kanharith, the CPP's spokesman, said Ranariddh's ouster was an internal problem
"We do not interfere in the internal problems of Funcinpec, but we hope that
Funcinpec will continue to keep a good relationship with the CPP," Kanharith
Koul Panha, Executive Director of the local election monitoring NGO the Committee
for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) told the Post on October 19 that
the influence of the CPP has created serious divisions inside Funcinpec and the initiative
to keep members of the royal families out of politics was the reason to oust Prince