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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec members fear meltdown

Funcinpec members fear meltdown

Large numbers of Funcinpec members are deeply worried about the faltering party's

chances in the general election scheduled for July 2003. And senior party sources

told the Post the party could lose more than half its seats at the polls.

MPs, senators and government officials, all of whom declined to be identified, said

party faithful were disillusioned at the National Assembly's rejection of Khan Savoeun

as co-Minister of Interior.

Savoeun was nominated to replace fellow Funcinpec member You Hokry, whom some party

members accused of nepotism and corruption earlier this year.

Members had said that although they would not leave the party, they had no confidence

in the leadership and had little motivation to work on the election. That feeling

was particularly strong among former resistance fighters loyal to Savoeun.

"I stand at the crossroads now and I feel that many officials now aren't motivated

enough to do anything [for Funcinpec]," said one senior party member.

But Funcinpec spokesman Kol Pheng rejected the allegations when contacted by the

Post.

"These members are exaggerating in an attempt to destroy Funcinpec but we do

not care," he said.

However many Funcinpec officials warned the party could face substantial losses at

the polls. Some quoted figures as low as 20 seats, less than half of the 43 it now

holds.

Others criticized the atmosphere within the party.

"Funcinpec is not a family like the CPP," said one. "When there is

a problem everyone tries to avoid responsibility in order to protect their own personal

power."

Party activists had also complained that Funcinpec did not protect them in the face

of political intimidation by the Cambodian People's Party.

There was also outspoken criticism of Funcinpec's leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Senior officials accused him of stifling debate and surrounding himself with supporters

who lacked loyalty.

"There are many people around the prince who please him to serve their own interests,"

said one official, "and if the party gets into severe problems, these people

will either return to the US or join the CPP."

Aware of the dangers of dissent, Ranariddh has attempted to prevent Funcinpec

members from airing their grievances in public. On August 24 he summoned members

of the Steering Committee, legislators and senators and ordered them to stop speaking

to the media about the party's problems. At that meeting he appointed Pheng as party

spokesman with sole responsibility for talking to the media.

Some officials said they were unhappy with the ban but would refrain from making

public pronouncements about the party because of the threat of dismissal.

Senior party members said the CPP was looking to exploit disillusionment within Funcinpec

and looking to pick up defectors from the royalists in the event of a poor showing

next year.

Dr Lao Mong Hay, a seasoned political observer, said that seemed likely as the CPP

is perceived by many voters to have done more for them than Funcinpec.

Another poor performance at the polls will continue Funcinpec's gradual decline over

the years. In 1993 it won 58 National Assembly seats, but that dropped to 43 seats

in 1998. And the party was hammered in local elections earlier this year, when the

CPP picked up all but a handful of the 1,621 commune chief positions across the country.

The opposition has not wasted time seizing on disaffection within the party. Sam

Rainsy, a former Funcinpec MP and now leader of the opposition, said he would welcome

defectors.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said meetings between disgruntled Funcinpec MPs and officials

had already taken place with a view to uniting against the CPP before the election.

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