Funcinpec is going through a phase of intense introspection following its election
debacle. Having succeeded in installing chiefs in less than 1 percent of the Kingdom's
1,621 communes following the February 3 elections, the party has finally realized
its royal credentials can no longer be used as a trump card.
However, more than its failure to gain the largest number of votes in more than ten
communes, it is the sharp drop in vote share over the 1998 parliamentary elections
that has served it a severe blow.
Preliminary results show that Funcinpec's overall vote share dropped to 21.8%. That
is 10% less than its share in 1998. Worse still, the party took 45.4% of the vote
in the UNTAC-sponsored 1993 election, which means its share has halved in less than
"Funcinpec figured out that you can't just drive to a commune, give a speech,
then look at your watch, see it's 4 o'clock and race back to Topaz for dinner,"
said one diplomat.
To re-invigorate itself, the party embarked on a fire fighting exercise February
12-13, setting up a task force of senators, MPs, ministers and top party functionaries.
The two-day meeting with the chiefs of provincial electoral groups, governors and
deputy governors is expected to pinpoint the causes of party's sliding popularity
and recommend a detailed action plan to be set in motion in a few months, "so
the voters are not disappointed again in future".
It is expected that heads will roll in ministries, governorships and the party hierarchy
once the task force submits its report. Political observers said that could be too
little too late.
In the run-up to the commune elections, most political analysts predicted the party
would easily win top positions in at least 20 percent of communes, provided voting
patterns in communes and districts remained similar to those in 1998. Bringing in
Prince Sirivudh, the King's half-brother, as secretary-general of the party in July
2001 was meant to revitalize Funcinpec.
Insiders said he has not had sufficient time to make an impact. The results indicated
that the party fared poorly even in areas that were believed to be its traditional
strongholds. Party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh shrugged off suggestions that
the result perhaps sounded a requiem for the party.
The mood at party HQ was mournful after news trickled in that Funcinpec had failed
to take even a single commune in Phnom Penh. Party leaders admitted privately that
complacency, technical weaknesses and a coalition of compulsion with the formerly
communist CPP had cost them dearly at the hustings.
Ranariddh, however, put on a brave face, insisting his party is still the second
force in Cambodian politics. He said the result should not be seen as a defeat for
Before leaving for France for a health check-up February 11, he ordered a committee
be set up to investigate what went wrong.
"We need to find out what the voters need and how Funcinpec can better respond
to those needs," he said.
The party's deputy secretary general, Senator Kem Sokha, was more forthright in admitting
the weaknesses and mistakes that made the party the biggest loser of the 2002 commune
elections. In a series of meetings with the Post to analyze the results and what
Funcinpec needs to do, he admitted the party had failed on both political and technical
He said it appeared that thousands of party supporters who faced violence from their
CPP rivals during the 1997 coup and later staged protests against them during the
1998 elections, did not like the fact their party leaders had - as one young supporter
bluntly stated - "sold themselves off to the enemy [by entering into] a coalition
with the CPP".
Sokha, who is on the task force, said the party should have explained the reasons
behind the coalition.
"We joined hands with the CPP for the sake of peace and political stability
in the country, and for the safety and security of our members," he said. "It
was the CPP-Funcinpec coalition that brokered peace; [otherwise] the conflicts would
Did that mean the party could now reconsider its coalition arrangement to win back
the deserting supporters?
"That's simply not possible," Sokha said. "What we need to reconsider
is the conditions of our coalition. So far, it has been only the CPP that has benefited
from what was supposed to be a mutually beneficial agreement."
Dr Lao Mong Hay, director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said that its failure
to distinguish itself from the CPP proved Funcinpec's biggest undoing. Voters realized
that if they had to vote for someone in power, the CPP provided a better prospect,
since Funcinpec offered no clear alternatives.
"The only electoral policy that Funcinpec had was not to antagonize the CPP.
If the CPP stood for continuation of the status quo, the SRP represented change.
As for Funcinpec, it was neither here nor there. True, they have the royal connection
but they can't possibly offer the King to the public," he said.
As for the King himself, one palace watcher said His Majesty was seriously depressed
at the poll results as Funcinpec's poor showing meant that the image of the King
did not work any more in favor of the party he founded.
It is said that the King wanted to leave the country for Switzerland, ostensibly
to visit his doctor, Dr Georges Pathe, but was prevented from doing so by the Queen.
On the technical front too, poor choice of candidates, weak organizational skills
and even worse management of human resources were among the main causes of the party's
Though it gained a share of power with appointments of ministers, provincial governors
and even military commanders in exchange for the coalition, the party said its candidates
have simply been accommodated rather than given real power, since crucial positions
went to the CPP. As a result, it was not in a position to do much for its supporters.
"The teacher was used for farming and the farmer for teaching work. How can
you expect results?" Funcinpec Senator Nhiek Bun Chhay asked at a post-election
Another factor that damaged the party's standing in Phnom Penh was the appointment
of the CPP's Chea Sophara as governor in 1998. Though the position was Funcinpec's,
it handed it to the CPP due to "lack of a suitable candidate" within its
own ranks, raising the hackles of its supporters.
Ranariddh also suggested that attacks on his party by the opposition leader Sam Rainsy
ended up strengthening the ruling CPP, while robbing the royalists of votes. Other
factors included a heavy pro-CPP bias in the National Election Committee, vote buying,
killings, threats and intimidation by the CPP.
Despite the problems, Ranariddh insisted the election was a victorious step toward
democracy and said his party, as the second largest in all provinces bar one, would
install deputy chiefs to share power with CPP at the grassroots as well.
"It was our party only that committed to holding the commune elections way back
in 1993. The holding of the election itself represents the culmination of what we
initiated," Sokha added.
In licking its wounds, the party seems to be regaining some of the assertiveness
normally seen during pre-election politicking. The leaders say the hard lessons learned
will make Funcinpec stronger for next year's electoral battle. Are the voters prepared
to give the royalists another chance? The general election will show.