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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec plans pre-election shuffle

Funcinpec plans pre-election shuffle

Funcinpec's May 9 confirmation of Prince Norodom Sirivudh's return to the party fold

as Secretary General foreshadows a planned shake-out of Funcinpec ministers to boost

the party's chances in the coming commune elections.

According to Funcinpec Deputy Secretary General Kem Sokha, the party is considering

replacing Funcinpec ministers in the Health, Tourism and Rural Development ministries

with individuals deemed more voter friendly prior to the Feb, 2002 commune elections.

Tourism Minister Veng Serey-vuth and Health Minister Hong Sun Huot were unavailable

for comment, but Chhim Seak Leng, Minister of Rural Development, said that Ranariddh

had mentioned the possibility of a cabinet shuffle during the party congress in March

and that he would go quietly if asked.

Funcinpec Steering Committee member Princess Norodom Vacheara was supportive of the

impending shuffle, adding that she had heard that up to four Funcinpec ministers

would be replaced.

"I think it's a good idea," Vacheara said of the upcoming changes in Funcinpec

ministers. "If some ministers are not responsible in their work in government

they should be removed."

A Funcinpec insider told the Post that the party leadership was concerned about public

perceptions that the party had a "lap-dog" relationship with the ruling

CPP, and its potential damaging effect in the coming polls.

"We've been criticized for the slow pace of reform in ministries under our control

and for not addressing rampant government corruption," the source said.

Publicly, however, Prince Ranariddh is continuing to assert the importance of continuing

the CPP-Funcinpec coalition.

"Peace and political stability depends on... good co-operation between CPP and

Funcinpec, meaning I and Samdech Hun Sen," Ranarridh said on May 9.

To solidify that co-operation, the Prince said that Funcinpec and CPP will sign another

agreement specifying their converging mutual interests in the next commune election.

"I and Samdech Chea Sim...will sign an agreement about the commune election

to guarantee political stability, transparency, justice and security for Cambodian

people participating in the next elections," he said.

Sirivudh's return to a leading position in Funcinpec is perceived by observers as

a way of allowing the party to capitalize on Sirivudh's personal popularity.

Sirivudh was sentenced in absentia to a 10-year prison term in 1996 after being accused

of plotting to kill Prime Minister Hun Sen. He returned to Phnom Penh in Jan, 1999

after King Norodom Sihanouk granted him an amnesty.

Ranariddh played down the potential for friction between the CPP and Funcinpec due

to Sirivudh's appointment.

"This is the matter of Sirivudh... it depends on him and I think that the

past doesn't matter because I have very good co-operation with Samdech Hun Sen and

he respects my decision and that of Funcinpec," Ranariddh said.

Other pending internal party shuffles include the appointment of Senator Nhek Bunchhay

to a Funcinpec Deputy Secretary General position.

Ranariddh emphasised the importance Funcinpec was placing on success in the 2002

elections.

"I acknowledge that we have a zero percentage of power at the commune level

and our target is to get at least 40 percent of the current power at the commune

[following the 2002 commune elections]," he said. "We are not fighting

the CPP for power at the commune level but [instead] seeking the support of the people".

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Post that he welcomed the prospect of a revitalized

Funcinpec following Prince Sirivudh's return and would not rule out SRP co-operation

with the party if "real power" is given to Sirivudh.

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