Ung Phan and Toan Chay have taken the plunge - for the same reason or not - to spearhead
a Funcinpec breakaway that has been rumored for months. Jason Barber reports.
THE Funcinpec split marks a milestone - but by no means surprising - test of the
party's unity, Prince Norodom Ranariddh's leadership, and Hun Sen's ability to infiltrate
and divide his coalition partner.
The loyalties of some senior Funcinpec members have long been in question. Funcinpec
was aware of spies within its ranks, say party officials, as well as fortune hunters
who would jump to Hun Sen's camp if the going got tough.
More than a year ago, according to CPP sources, a Funcinpec steering committee member
was providing written reports on the committee's meetings to Hun Sen.
The spy's reports provide one possible explanation of why the Funcinpec Deputy Prime
Minister Ing Kieth attracted Hun Sen's ire last year. Keith, say sources, had been
a consistent advocate within the Funcinpec steering committee of a strategy to try
to encourage divisions within the CPP to counter Hun Sen's power.
"We knew there were spies in the meetings," said one Funcinpec official
last week. "Whatever was said in the meetings, Hun Sen knew."
Similarly, Funcinpec suspected spies among its Members of Parliament, and knew that
at one point the loyalties of an unspecified number of its ministers were in doubt.
Last month, it finally happened. Three steering committee members - Minister of State
and MP Ung Phan, Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay and Banteay Meanchey Governor Doung
Khem - publicly abandoned Ranariddh, along with a small but disputed number of MPs.
Ung Phan - who jumped first from the Funcinpec ship - was no surprise. If Phan, a
former CPP member close to Hun Sen, was a long-time agent for the CPP, his cover
was blown long ago.
Most in Funcinpec have not trusted him since the Prince Norodom Sirivudh affair in
late 1995. Phan tape-recorded a telephone conservation with Sirivudh in which the
Prince - angry about a CPP allegation of corruption against him - threatened to kill
The tape made its way to Hun Sen and within weeks Sirivudh - with the consent of
Ranariddh, and a compliant National Assembly - was packed off into exile.
Soon after, Phan approached Ranariddh, asking that he be considered politically "neutral",
according to party sources. Ranariddh told him that he had to choose sides.
Phan instead choose to go abroad. He left for a one-year English language course
in California - paid for by himself, his aides say - but remained disgruntled.
In February, say sources, Phan briefly returned to Cambodia and approached a number
of party MPs about a prospective Funcinpec breakaway. Party leaders were alerted
to his action.
For months now, Hun Sen has privately spoken of Funcinpec as being divided between
Ranariddh loyalists and the "Ung Phan faction".
Phan went back to the US and returned to Cambodia a little more than a month ago
for the Khmer New Year. Within days, he was mounting a challenge to Ranariddh.
Few political observers doubt that Hun Sen was pulling Phan's strings. The timing
was impeccable - just as Funcinpec was growing stronger, with Ranariddh mending his
differences with Sam Rainsy and forging the National United Front.
IF Phan - on his own - was a predictable and relatively powerless traitor for Funcinpec,
the biggest surprise was the defection of Toan Chay, the Siem Reap governor and Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) general.
A popular, straight-talking party elder, Chay commands far more respect and popularity
than Phan ever has. Chay is the former chief of staff of ANKI, the Funcinpec anti-Vietnamese
resistance army in the 1980s. While known to be no fan of Ranariddh's, he is an unlikely
candidate to throw his lot in with Hun Sen.
"Money," was one Funcinpec official's blunt verdict on Chay's motivation.
Other party officials speculate that Chay was unhappy with the Siem Reap governor's
job. They say that, after the 1993 elections, he coveted the position of Minister
of Interior, which went to You Hockry.
Since Ranariddh went public with his complaints about unequal power-sharing within
the government coalition in March, 1996, Hun Sen has cultivated contact with Chay,
according to several sources. There was speculation that CPP would support You Hockry
being replaced by Chay.
In Siem Reap, Chay is known to have good relations with CPP officials, particularly
the CPP deputy governor Nou Som. With moderate officials on both sides of the political
divide, Siem Reap was touted as a place where factional fighting, à la Battambang,
could not happen.
But while many presume that Chay is now firmly in Hun Sen's pocket, there is speculation
that he is in fact playing a different game. Even some CPP officials are by no means
presuming that the governor will be a lackey.
"Toan Chay was unhappy with Ranariddh, but he is still his own man," said
a senior CPP official. "He wants to have a new party, not to be part of CPP.
He uses CPP as a step."
Other CPP officials go further, entertaining the possibility that Chay's challenge
to Ranariddh may be supported by King Norodom Sihanouk. The speculation is fueled
by Chay's three-week visit to the King in Beijing in March.
Chay - and fellow renegade Doung Khem, the Banteay Meanchey governor and an RCAF
general - is close to the King. He is also known to have warm relations, better than
Ranariddh's, with the Queen.
The King, whose distaste for the government is well-known, has grown increasingly
disparaging of his son Ranariddh, according to other recent visitors. The Ung Phan
breakaway, so the theory goes, may have given the King the chance - through Toan
Chay - to pursue his own aims: see Ranariddh replaced? See a new party formed? Abdicate
and enter politics himself?
While several party members believe Chay would not have acted without the King's
approval, at least implicit, others roundly dismiss that possibility.
"I don't believe the King would play such a dangerous strategy - it still makes
CPP win," said one MP, who added that he also believed Chay was playing his
own game, not Hun Sen's.
"He has got his own ideas, even if CPP push him. I don't believe he will stay
with Ung Phan."
Another insider said: "I think his ambition is to lead Funcinpec, and he needs
the support of Hun Sen, to begin with at least, to achieve that. Whether he has the
benediction of the King or the Queen, I don't know. I don't think anybody does."
Chay, in an Apr 23 press conference, gave little real sign of his intentions, suggesting
that he would form a new party while at the same time declaring: "I was born
He said he had not discussed his challenge to Ranariddh with the King on his March
trip to Beijing, but had since written a letter to His Majesty.
Chay claimed that one of his aims was to strengthen the Monarchy - by putting it
above politics. He attacked Ranariddh's actions as Prime Minister as "bullshit",
but said that the Prince was "more than suitable" to be the next King.
Of Hun Sen, Chay said he had not received money from him but might in the future.
With a smile, he declared: "Which side I choose to align with? I choose the
one who wins, not the one who loses!"
Whatever Chay's game is, he must have a sense of déja vu about it. In 1986,
he secretly tried to collect support to topple Ranariddh as commander of ANKI on
the Thai border, according to a former senior resistance official. The plot collapsed
when Ranariddh was alerted by Thai officials, and when two resistance army commanders
- Nhek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun - refused to back Toan Chay.
Interestingly, Bun Chhay and Savoeun are today Funcinpec's most powerful generals
- virtually entirely in charge of Ranariddh's military might - whom Hun Sen has publicly
and privately railed against.
HUN Sen himself is said to be buoyant about the Funcinpec rupture. In a recent meeting
with CPP chiefs, he declared that "the final phase" of winning power was
The reality, so far, is less clear-cut. Hun Sen is still far short of the number
of Funcinpec MPs he would need to dismiss Ranariddh, or any minister, or change the
Hun Sen will undoubtedly continue to try to lure Funcinpec defectors - through a
well-worn strategy of incentives and intimidation, according to human rights workers
monitoring recent events.
Timing will be everything. As Ranariddh himself said after Toan Chay and Ung Phan
defected, it's better that they leave now than "one week before the  elections".
So does Hun Sen have more Funcinpec aces up his sleeve, ready to be played at a more
In particular, the loyalties of a number of Funcinpec Ministers are open to question.
A Funcinpec official acknowledges that - after Ranariddh's threat to withdraw from
the government in March 1996 - some Funcinpec ministers visited Hun Sen to "secure
Last May, Hun Sen was confident enough to publicly claim that, if Ranariddh withdrew
from the government, many Funcinpec Ministers and MPs would stick with CPP.
"If five [ministers] leave the government, 15 others will not...if three [MPs]
leave the parliament, 50 others will not," he said, claiming that he had prepared
a list of ministers for a new coalition government.
Funcinpec officials are loathe to name their ministers who approached Hun Sen. "We
don't want to point the finger, but we know who they are," said one.
But the loyalties of several figures have long been under a cloud. Among them is
the Funcinpec Minister of Interior, You Hockry, particularly after the saga of the
missing heroin last August.
"He's ours, counted already," one CPP official said at the time, implying
that Hun Sen was in a position to call in favors from Hockry or attack him over the
Whether Hockry failed to play the game, or Hun Sen now finds it more attractive to
use him to embarrass Funcinpec, there are now renewed CPP attempts to lift his parliamentary
Other Funcinpec ministers whose actions have raised eyebrows include Agriculture's
Tao Seng Huor. He saw fit, without informing Ranariddh, to be the only Funcinpec
member in Hun Sen's entourage on a state visit to South Korea last July.
IF Ranariddh has to worry about people jumping ship if they believe that Funcinpec
is sinking, he also has to appease another group of members discontented with his
Some in the party, particularly MPs, see Ranariddh as elitist and out-of-touch with
the grassroots. To such people, he earned himself no credit by banishing Sam Rainsy
- only to take him back - and by going along with Hun Sen's persecution of Sirivudh.
There is also a view - perhaps a factor with Toan Chay and Doung Khem - that those
who fought for the resistance were not adequately rewarded once the war was over.
Adding to the resentment is the perception that some of those who did get the plum
ministerial jobs, primarily returning Khmer expatriates, are preoccupied with greasing
their own palms.
It was not by chance that when Ung Phan publicly launched the Funcinpec breakaway,
he highlighted the issue of corruption. Many mid- and lower-ranked party officials,
even if they doubt Phan's motivations, privately say he was right.
After the recent breakaway, there are indications that Ranariddh is prepared to take
some action to counter corruption within the party. If he doesn't, he may face another
exodus from Funcinpec closer to the elections - to Sam Rainsy, his former nemesis
and now alliance partner.
"A lot of MPs and high-ranking officials will go to Rainsy," said one official.
"If he's still alive," added another, in a touch of realism.
Some in Funcinpec are putting on a brave face. "This crisis is a lesson for
Ranariddh. He has learnt a lot," said one official.
While Ranariddh can be contented that Hun Sen has so far failed to seriously threaten
his leadership, he can be certain the lessons will only get tougher from here on.
Some notable observers are not sure he is up to the test.
"This is the beginning of the end for Samdech N. Ranariddh and for Funcinpec,"
the party's founder, King Norodom Sihanouk, wrote in his latest monthly bulletin.