F uncinpec - going through a renaissance, pragmatically making sacrifices for the
sake of peace, or terminally ill? As Funcinpec meets at a congress in Phnom Penh,
Jason Barber looks at the state of the party.
WHILE Hun Sen was drawing up a government decree to reintroduce the January 7 holiday,
fellow Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was hurriedly planning a trip overseas.
Ranariddh, less than eager to sign the decree, was on his way to Pochentong airport
when Hun Sen learnt of his movement. An aide of Hun Sen's, clutching the holiday
decree, was dispatched to intercept Ranariddh before he could leave the country.
The incident - as retold by Ranariddh in private explanations to Funcinpec officials
- again highlighted the cracks in the government coalition.
In what seemed a familiar story, Funcinpec buckled under the weight of its Cambodian
People's Party (CPP) partner. Hun Sen got his way, and his day, while Ranariddh went
The Jan 7 holiday, Hun Sen emphasized, was meant to celebrate the 1979 ousting of
the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. But to the "handful of people" with "some
hesitation" about the holiday, as Hun Sen said in one speech, it also symbolized
the start of a 10-year Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia - which Funcinpec fought.
Whatever was celebrated on Jan 7 - spent by Ranariddh in Singapore, missing the fanfare
and speeches at Phnom Penh's new Hun Sen Park and at CPP headquarters - it didn't
seem to be Cambodia's much-vaunted "national reconciliation" and "political
Perhaps what the holiday most importantly marked, according to some in Funcinpec
at least, was a drawing of the lines between Funcinpec and CPP.
The entire Funcinpec steering committee, bar Ranariddh, sent an unprecedented letter
of concern to the King about the holiday. Ranariddh himself later seemed to rediscover
a desire for the political limelight, denouncing Vietnamese encroachments on Khmer
land as an "invasion" - a sure reminder of the 1979 occupation which CPP
was borne out of.
Is Funcinpec fighting back, determined to restamp its identity on the public mind,
awakened to the realization that its future is by no means secure? Some would like
to think so.
"There are limits to concessions," says one Funcinpec MP. "We cannot
negotiate over principles. Sure, we can negotiate over positions, policies, facts,
but principles should not be touched."
The Jan 7 holiday, says the MP, "touches on the identity of Funcinpec itself."
The MP maintains that Funcinpec did stand up to CPP over its request to bring back
the holiday - by giving what he terms a "half no, half yes" answer.
Concessions were made by CPP, he says: the holiday decree was signed by the Prime
Ministers, not by the King, and Jan 7 was not made a "national day" like
Nov 9, Independence Day.
Why didn't Funcinpec - and the King, who officially proposed the holiday's revival
at CPP's request - just say no?
"To keep them quiet, smooth," says the MP, noting the earlier arrest and
exile of Funcinpec secretary-general Prince Norodom Sirivudh.
"At any time the CPP can show their attitude of violence. We understand that
again this is a kind of sacrifice. It was based on the wisdom that if we didn't,
we could expect a lot more disasters."
Whatever the circumstances of Jan 7's reinstatement - and certainly some suggest
there was more to the story - this MP, at least, believes Funcinpec was the
"Since Jan 7, Funcinpec is refreshed, we have reiterated the position, the identity
of Funcinpec. We were rearmed, morally speaking."
Other Funcinpec members are a little less sure, and less forgiving to Ranariddh.
"Who cares about that story [of Ranariddh trying to avoid signing the decree]?"
said one. "If he didn't want to sign it, he shouldn't have signed it.
"If Ranariddh is a man who has his own principles, why now? Why not before?"
One answer is that now is a good time. Funcinpec's identity, its past and its future,
will be on the minds of all who attend this week's party congress in Phnom Penh,
which opened yesterday, the 15th anniversary of Funcinpec's creation as an anti-Vietnamese
Funcinpec has much to think about. For the party which won the last election, the
road to power has been full of potholes. In making "major political sacrifices
for the sake of peace and national reconciliation" - as a party statement in
January put it - Funcinpec is perceived as failing to secure equal weight with CPP.
It has lost several popular figures: Sam Rainsy, banished from party and parliament
after internal ructions; and Norodom Sirivudh, dispatched into exile in the most
controversial of circumstances.
Now, it seems, it is official: Funcinpec is fighting for its very existence. The
recent pronouncements by King Norodom Sihanouk painted a grim future for the party
he founded: CPP likely to win the next election, Ranariddh to become King - with
the support of Hun Sen - upon Sihanouk's death, and Funcinpec destined to "disappear."
Controversy and political fireworks are unlikely at the party congress, particularly
with Sirivudh, a Ranariddh rival, languishing in France. One party cynic suggested
the main thing on the agenda would be a lot of clapping.
But with the King's message ringing in their ears, Funcinpec MPs, officials and the
party faithful who want to remain that way will be looking for reassurances that
they have a future.
They will no doubt get them from Ranariddh but he is unlikely to reveal much of what
his vision, however firm, for the future is. Funcinpec is likely to go on as it has
so far - putting its faith, and hoping that its not blind, in Ranariddh.
One MP, speaking of "very frustrated" elements within Funcinpec, says:
"Prince Ranariddh advises us that he has his own policy. He asks that Funcinpec
members have confidence in him, so we give him the opportunity and we will see what
happens in '98."
Another MP saw promising signs, saying: "We have heard for a long time that
Ranariddh cannot give what we need to meet our expectations, that he can understand
"Maybe this is the first time he can show part of his strategy," he said
of Ranariddh's apparent desire recently to distinguish Funcinpec from CPP. "This
can make him stronger."
Publicly, the Funcinpec-CPP coalition is firm, with Ranariddh and Hun Sen committed
to a coalition after the next election - and until the year 2010 according to Hun
Sen. The key question is how the parties will campaign for votes.
Sirivudh, before his exile, spoke out against any "pre-arrangement" for
Funcinpec and CPP to compete less than vigorously against each other.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to any such arrangement is the Constitutional requirement
that there be only one Prime Minister after the 1998 election: a convincing reason
for the parties, and leaders, to vie strongly for votes.
"Technically speaking, it's not possible," said one MP of any prior agreement.
"How do you get one PM?"
Funcinpec is said to be committed, win or lose, whether Ranariddh is Prime Minister
or not, to continuing a coalition after the election. If it wins, it might have little
choice - as after the 1993 election - but can the same be said for Hun Sen?
"We have to study the alternatives now," says the MP. "If we win,
no problem, we continue with a coalition.
"If we lose, first we have to accept it and second, we have to work together.
But whether Hun Sen will accept a coalition or not? That's why we hope to continue
good relations between Funcinpec and CPP now."
Loy Sim Chheang, Sirivudh's replacement as Funcinpec's secretary-general, says the
party's campaign strategy has yet to be decided.
The closest the party congress will get to considering that will be to endorse the
principles of fully respecting the Constitution, allowing foreign electoral observers
and seeking neutrality from the police and military during the election period.
"Myself, I think just to protect democracy is a good wish for us already,"
said Loy Sim Chheang. "If we don't care for this regime, it will collapse."
Most observers expect the Funcinpec-CPP alliance to survive for the foreseeable future
but there is skepticism that the "marriage of convenience", as one put
it, will last to see too many anniversaries.
Some suggest the bedfellows have an inherent distrust of each other - a "those
who left and those who stayed behind" attitude toward the Vietnamese occupation
- which must be overcome for national reconciliation.
Much of Funcinpec's hierarchy are returnees who spent years abroad, while CPP's ran
the country after the Vietnamese invasion. Is there an "us and them" attitude?
"From the Cambodian people, no," says one Funcinpec MP, a former refugee.
"Everybody has some family outside Cambodia, so they don't reject us.
"But from the [CPP] politicians, yes, in their attitude and in their laws. You
can't talk about the resistance, you can't talk about the CPP occupation - everything
against the identity of the CPP is banned by them.
"While any party tries to preserve their identity, it's difficult to get unity
The MP says some in CPP perceive returning overseas Khmers as people coming back
to demand big salaries and tell them what to do.
"But they bring back money and expertise. It's a kind of an investment to me,
but the government side doesn't talk about it like that. We have to integrate the
Cambodian community overseas, otherwise there is no national reconciliation."
One Phnom Penh diplomat believes the Sirivudh affair, for instance, was a warning
to a variety of people, including "foreign passport holders" - a category
which includes Sam Rainsy and, ultimately, Ranariddh, who holds a French passport.
Though Sirivudh was an ironic target - he has no other citizenship - the message
was clear to those with links to other countries: you can go back there.
There have also long been rumors - never expressed officially, and unlikely to be
as long as Ranariddh is a Prime Minister - that CPP wants dual-citizenship Cambodians
to have to give up one passport by law.
Other politicians and observers say Funcinpec can by no means take the high moral
ground in any debate about returnees. They accuse some in Funcinpec of being more
interested in status and money than concern for Cambodia.
One observer, associated with Funcinpec dissidents, says senior government officials
who held "jobs of no station" during their time abroad enjoy and expect
to be "treated as Kings" in senior positions in Cambodia.
As long as they are interested in the job perks, and know they can return abroad
if needed, they will never be committed to Cambodia, according to the observer.
"You only fight back if you have your back against the wall. If you have a hole
in the wall [the opportunity to live in another country], you know you can go whoomph
through the hole at any time.
"The only difference [if they leave] is that they will have a lot more money
than when they arrived."
There is some pressure within Funcinpec for it to clean up its nest.
"Funcinpec needs to be refreshed, to remove some bad elements, some corrupt
people. There needs to be a kind of repainting," says one MP.
A failure to do that only adds to the frustrations of good Funcinpec officials, who
could turn their backs on Cambodia.
"Before, when I came back to Cambodia I felt proud to put my hands, my head
and my heart into being a part of the development of Cambodia," says one Funcinpec
returnee. "Now I feel I have wasted my time.
"For those who have high hopes for Cambodia, and those that can support their
standard of living here, they will stay. The people who don't have high hopes any
more, and have difficulty in their standard of living, they will pack their bags
A true test of Funcinpec members and supporters' loyalty and faith will come in the
One party member says that, during the 1993 election, "I borrowed money, which
I still haven't paid back, to help Funcinpec. You think I'm going to make that sacrifice
again? I cannot.
"After the  election, it's up to the leaders to decide how to run the
country. If they can't run the country, if they cannot rule the party, let them go
Said one Funcinpec MP after Sirivudh's arrest in November: "There is no deal
between CPP and Funcinpec. We accept the reality - the Paris Peace Agreement is finished."
Funcinpec was "forgetting our own objectives" out of concern for national
reconciliation, he said, adding: "You cannot expect better things by destroying
But what's the alternative? Can Funcinpec afford to stay in a coalition with CPP.
More importantly, can it afford not to? As the election nears, Ranariddh faces his
toughest test, trying to allay the frustrations of his members and work out the best
to secure Funcinpec's future.
It the end, it may well be more than the identities of Funcinpec or CPP, but that
of Cambodia itself, at stake.