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
"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.