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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hands up for Toan Chay

Hands up for Toan Chay

TOAN Chay was elected president of Funcinpec (No.2) at a Phnom Penh congress which

attracted Hun Sen bodyguards, some providing security and others, it seems, lending

their support as voters.

The June 1 meeting at the Chatomuk Theater was held under heavy security, provided

by CPP-aligned military police and soldiers. Hun Sen bodyguards-dressed identically

to those who were present during the Mar 30 grenade attack in a nearby park-took

up positions several streets away around the CPP compound near Wat Botum.

Other bodyguards, dressed in civilian clothes, apparently took part in the "Funcinpec"

congress, casting votes.

"I am a bodyguard of Hun Sen," said one man, wearing the white shirt

which was the standard attire of the day.

He said there were about 100 bodyguards in the audience, but wouldn't say anything

else after his colonel approached and told him to shut up.

Others among the 784 delegates who voted for Toan Chay, the Funcinpec governor

of Siem Reap who has challenged Prince Norodom Ranariddh's leadership of the party,

included children and people who were not Funcinpec members.

A 15 year-old girl said she voted 'yes' for Toan Chay because her mother told

her to do. Her mother said she didn't even know much about the congress, but had

come along because her grandfather asked her. "I do not belong to any party,"

she said.

A 60-year-old man, a mechanic who lives near Kandal Market, said he had never

attended a political meeting before and wasn't a member of Funcinpec or any other

party.

"The Chief of the Sangkat called me yesterday afternoon and asked me to come

this morning without telling me where we would go. This morning I was brought here

with about 100 other people from the same area," he said, adding that he hoped

to get $50 from the organizers.

The congress began after buses arrived at the theater in the early morning, and

columns of mainly men filed out dressed identically in white shirts, most carrying

briefcases. They all looked suitably serious.

The meeting went ahead despite the objections of Funcinpec officials, including

the Phnom Penh governor, who had labeled it illegal. A strong contingent of CPP police

and military police-some of whom had taken up positions around the theater the night

before-turned out to give security.

In his opening speech, Toan Chay expressed his gratitude to CPP president Chea

Sim, and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, thanking them for the security.

Also attending were representatives of smaller parties which have signed alliances

with CPP in recent months.

Every member of the audience was given a paper with three boxes - "agree".

"disagree" or "no opinion" - to choose from and deliver their

verdict on Chay's candidacy to be president.

The ballot boxes were opened and the votes were counted in the course of one hour.

Seven people disagreed and six ticked the "no opinion' box, it was announced.

Chay expressed his surprise that so many people voted against him. But he was

still pleased by the results, he said.

Asked about the presence of the Hun Sen bodyguards, who are presumably unlikely

to be Funcinpec members, Toan Chay denied it, but said he could not check to see

if that were the case.

Chay said he would seek a meeting with Prince Ranariddh and ask him to convene

an extraordinary meeting of Funcinpec and settle the party's leadership issue once

and for all.

Chay-along with eight renegade Funcinpec MPs who had joined the breakaway group-have

all been expelled from the party but dispute the legality of their expulsions. The

National Assembly remains deadlocked, and unable to meet, as CPP and Funcinpec argue

over whether the eight MPs should also lose their parliamentary seats.

At the end of his congress, Chay said that he remained dedicated to the Funcinpec

promise to "protect and promote the constitutional monarchy" and recognize

King Sihanouk as "the great founder of Funcinpec". But he accused Ranariddh

of using " the King's name for gaining favor over other parties, which has caused

the King's name to get involved in politics."

His comment echoed those of Hun Sen, who has publicly suggested that members of

the Royal family should be banned from politics, while CPP newspapers have strongly

attacked the King for alleged interference in politics.

One of the points in Toan Chay's political platform for a reformed Funcinpec is

"to strengthen the alliance and cooperation with partners in the coalition government,

especially CPP." A goal which, for he and his followers at least, seems to have

already been achieved.

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