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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec relies on royalty, anti-VN rhetoric

Funcinpec relies on royalty, anti-VN rhetoric

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ROYAL WELCOME

Ranariddh's resemblance to King Sihanouk appears to have a powerful effect on elderly voters.

TAKE a dollop of righteousness, add a generous helping of anti-Vietnamese fervor,

and coat it all in personality politics: this seems to be the recipe for Funcinpec's

1998 campaign.

At rallies large and small, during a feverish whistle-stop tour of the country, party

president Prince Norodom Ranariddh - deposed as First Prime Minister in the coup

of July 1997 - has been hitting on evidently popular themes to receptive crowds.

"If we vote for the right party, the yuon will leave; if we choose the wrong

party, the yuon will be more," he shouted at a July 14 rally in Pongror commune,

Kampong Chhnang, using a derogatory term for Vietnamese people.

"A vote for Funcinpec is a vote to settle territory," he said referring

to border disputes between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Although Ranariddh has been criticized for his anti-Vietnamese sentiments, at least

one Pongror farmer liked this approach: "I want the lost territory back,"

said Phy Sam Onn, 25.

Funcinpec members are also playing on the image of themselves as the innocent victims

of the coup, attracting sympathy and support.

"More supporters have joined Funcinpec following last July," claimed municipal

women's affairs officer Nhem Morokat.

A Buddhist ceremony in Phnom Penh on July 6, the one-year anniversary, provided an

opportunity for the Prince to pray for those among supporters who were killed.

Chum Sarith, a farmer attending the ceremony, said he expressed his sorrow over the

fighting which ousted Ranariddh and said he was happy to be able to come and support

the party.

At the ceremony, the Prince pledged he would not use force to settle problems. Days

later, word emerged that the government had launched an investigation of Ranariddh's

troops in O'Smach.

The Prince has repeatedly claimed his troops are not a private army - which would

disqualify him as a candidate - but legitimate members of the Royal Cambodian Armed

Forces.

Funcinpec officials scoff at the investigation, alleging it is just a ruse.

"I think someone is very scared now of the popularity of Funcinpec," said

campaign manager May Sam Oeun. "Someone wants to confuse the masses that Funcinpec

is not eligible. It's hitting Funcinpec below the belt, but it won't work."

Ranariddh also complained at the Pongror rally that he was facing other problems

as well: he claimed some supporters had been blocked from attending and that district

officials had caused problems with the rally site.

May Sam Oeun said the site had to be hastily relocated because permission to use

a local school had been revoked the night before the 9am rally.

Rally attendees told the Post they had encountered no trouble in coming, but party

officials elsewhere say they and their supporters face intimidation.

Suy Nou, a Funcinpec candidate in Svay Rieng province, said he was afraid to do much

high-profile campaigning.

"I don't do big things unless the Prince is here," he said, adding that

he restricts his activities to driving around in a small flag-festooned jeep and

handing out flyers.

Another problem facing the royalist party is the many spin-off parties containing

well-known former Funcinpec members.

At the Pongror rally, Ranariddh carefully explained that Reastr Niyum, stacked with

former party members, was separate from Funcinpec.

Prince Sisowath Sirivuth Panara, who faces a potentially tough race in Kampong Som

against the Reastr Niyum candidate, Minister of Industry Pou Sothirak, said he has

worked hard to explain to his confused constituency that Sothirak would not give

his votes to Funcinpec.

One confusion that may work in Funcinpec's favor is the Prince's physical similarity

to his father, King Norodom Sihanouk. Although Sihanouk has declined to endorse the

party he founded, Ranariddh invokes his name often. Some observers note that even

his gestures and demeanor echo the King even more than they did in 1993.

He Sann, a 63-year-old farmer clutching a grandchild and a Funcinpec flag, said she

attended the Pongror rally because of her strong feeling for the King. She said she

hoped his presence would ease the drought plaguing the countryside: "Because

our country has not had the King, until this month there has been no rain at all."

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