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Prince Norodom Ranariddh speaks during a press conference at his home in 2013.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh speaks during a press conference at his home in 2013. Hong Menea

Going back to his roots

Prince Norodom Ranariddh is leaving his newly formed political party and returning to the one that he led decades ago.

In a letter addressed to current Funcinpec leaders Nhek Bun Chhay and Princess Arun Rasmey, Ranariddh confirmed his intention to once again take the party’s reins.

“I am honoured and delighted to be Funcinpec president upon your request to continue leading our party again,” the letter reads.

Though the letter offered no further details, a source, who asked not to be named, said that Ranariddh had made the decision to return to Funcinpec – which he led to victory in Cambodia’s landmark 1993 elections – with the involvement of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“Prince Ranariddh agreed to return to lead Funcinpec soon after the prime minister’s negotiations,” the source said, before declining to elaborate. “The Queen Mother and the King have been informed of that information.”

Ranariddh will be meeting to officially inform the royal family today, he added.

A second source who maintains close ties to Ranariddh’s new Community of Royalist People’s Party (CRPP) said that Ranariddh, Funcinpec president Norodom Arun Rasmey and Hun Sen met yesterday at his villa, and that the premier had urged Ranariddh to return to Funcinpec to unify the royalist political front

Keo Puthreaksmey, head of the supreme council of the Funcinpec Party and husband of Arun Rasmey, declined to comment beyond confirming that today “Funcipec delegates will pay a courtesy call to the King”.

Likewise, Tom Sambol, who left Funcinpec to join Ranariddh’s fledgling CRPP less than a month ago, declined to comment on the matter, saying late last night that he was “in a meeting with Prince Ranariddh”.

An aide who answered Ranariddh’s phone last night also said that the prince was busy in a meeting.

Eang Sophalleth, an aide to Hun Sen, said he had no knowledge of the meeting with the premiere.

Despite once being Cambodia’s first prime minister – with Hun Sen in the role of “second prime minister” – Ranariddh has been largely sidelined in the political sphere in recent years. He was ousted from Funcinpec in 2006 and went on to form the eponymous Norodom Ranariddh Party, before leaving that to form the CRPP.

Over the course of the same period, the strength of royalist influence in Cambodian politics has waned. In the 2013 national elections, Funcinpec – the only royalist party competing – failed to secure a single seat in parliament.

It was not immediately apparent if Ranariddh’s latest move will entail a full merger of the two parties. He was unavailable for comment late last night.

When asked what interest would Hun Sen have in a revived royalist party, political analyst Chea Vannath ventured that the move could have the effect of weakening Cambodia’s monarchy.

“The prince is part of the monarchy, and it could damage the future of the monarchy itself, because it’s conflicting interests for the monarchy to be involved in politics,” she said. “This already happened in the past; the monarchy was affected by politics. So, for me, it’s not just a resurrection of Funcinpec, but it might go further, to [affect] the monarchy.”

“I do not jump to any conclusions, but the fact is, in the past, the monarchy was very shaky,” she added. “It is still.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND MAY TITTHARA

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