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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NRP spokesman upbeat for party

NRP spokesman upbeat for party

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NRP spokesman Mouth Chantha in his Phnom Penh office.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, founder and president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP)

has been living in France and Malaysia since early 2007, unwilling to return with

a jail sentence facing him. Despite his absence, his new political party remains

a political force to be reckoned with, says NRP spokesman Mouth Chantha. "We

have not ruled out the possibility that Ranariddh will come back, so don't say we

have no head yet." An October 3 ruling from the Court of Appeal upheld a municipal

court's sentencing of Ranariddh in a breach of trust case stemming from the sale

of his former party's headquarters and land to 18 months in prison and a $150,000

fine. Chantha argues that NRP proved its worth in the April commune elections when

it was barely six months old. (It came in fourth after CPP, SRP and Funcinpec, but

won no actual seats.)

Born in 1966 in Phnom Penh, Chantha has spent time in refugee camps on the Thai border

and has worked with international NGOs, UN agencies. He holds Masters Degrees in

both law and political science. After five years at the National Democratic Institute

(NDI), Chantha quit civil society for politics. "Civil society can speak but

real action does not take place there," he says. Married with three children,

he spoke to the Post's Cat Barton and Vong Sokheng in his office in the NRP headquarters

on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard about royalty, reality and how Cambodia functions as a

one-man show.

Why did you join the NRP?

If you want to make changes you have to live in the world where you live. I have

worked for civil society nearly 19 years, but by being involved directly in political

parties then we can make some changes. I am very pleased with the new party, I helped

to create it. Only a few people were involved. It was hard to bring into existence.

The Ministry of Interior would not respond to our requests, they said we didn't have

the right documents and things like that to waste our time and prevent us from participating

in the commune elections. So we took a different way: we found another party which

offered themselves to Prince Ranariddh. Then we changed that party. We adopted a

new bylaw which elected Ranariddh to party president and changed the name. It was

a big success. We had only been going three months, and we worked up from the grass

roots and won at the election.

Do people vote for Ranariddh or the NRP?

The Cambodian electorate doesn't vote on party platform or principle. They vote for

a personality. So Norodom Ranariddh is an asset to the NRP. The Sam Rainsy Party

has Sam Rainsy; the CPP has the 7th January. When Ranariddh was in FUNCINPEC it got

votes, when he left, his vote came with him. People vote for two things - personality

and their suffering. The government does not help to alleviate their suffering so

anyone who speaks up and shares that suffering gets their support, not because he

can solve the problem, but because he recognizes their suffering. But personality

is a main factor. Go into any market and ask the people why they voted for X party

or Y party and they will tell you 'I did that because I love the King, or Sam Rainsy,

or Hun Sen.'

What is the NRP platform?

Our party's main policy issues are corruption, land grabbing, the lack of judicial

independence, illegal immigration, border issues. Also the separation of powers.

Now, all the branches are controlled by one party, it is a one-man show.

How will the NRP build a culture of democracy in Cambodia?

First we will look at the systemic issues. Why the institution building has not taken

place. Why institutions are not serving the people. How institutions are being managed.

Second, we want to create the opportunity in Cambodia for people to fully participate.

Cambodians don't have any opportunity to participate; if they have a grievance or

concern can they go to the government? No, they have to rely on civil society. Why

do the institutions not work? I believe it is because people are not allowed to participate.

Then, look at the way they are managed and led. We will not take the FUNCINPEC political

culture - FUNCINPEC sealed their mouths - they don't even speak if the government

does not perform well. I must not blame Norodom Ranariddh for this, but many ministers

in the government have no conscience. When they are appointed to their positions,

they just take money. That is what killed FUNCINPEC.

Why is Ranariddh still in politics?

The message from Prince Ranariddh is quite clear: if I want to live an easy life

I can, I can quit politics. But I cannot quit when Cambodia still suffers, still

faces injustice, needs someone to speak up for it. Who will protect the throne unless

there is a Royalist party? If FUNCINPEC had not won in 1993 there would be no monarchy.

Do you think the active participation of members of the monarchy in politics is a

good thing?

If you look at Cambodian history there are always kings involved in politics and

in the military. The King Father, when he was young, was very involved. Cambodian

people still believe the King can and will protect his people. Look at Sihanouk's

era - it was prosperous, advantageous. Look at the current regime. Where is Cambodia

now? It is the number one in corruption, human trafficking, drug trafficking, poverty.

People do not have a decent life; they are not living in dignity. Look at who are

the richest people now -CPP politicians, CPP military police, the richest businessmen

are CPP aligned, like Mong Riththy. Even Cambodian business is monopolized by the

ruling party.

Can the NRP win the next election?

We're looking forward to having a good chance. You need viable political parties,

you can't just have non-existent ones, ones with no grass roots, no support structure.

We have that.

But you have no leader now?

The prince is indirectly, but deeply, involved, helped by modern technology. He spoke

in two places today, four yesterday [his speeches were broadcast ] the prince is

actively involved in the NRP.

How are you going to get Ranariddh back into Cambodia?

The diplomatic community wants to see the elections in 2008 as fair, democratic and

credible. All leaders of a political party must be allowed to participate - you need

a level playing ground. In the meantime, we will also seek a Royal pardon. Ranariddh

was sentenced to 35 years by a military tribunal before, but with donor intervention

he could come back. So we have hope. We will try the Supreme Court and hopefully

mobilize the diplomatic community. We want support from the human rights and UN organizations.

We are a viable party. Our president must be allowed to come back if they want this

election to be free and fair. We want him back now.

Why did Ranariddh decide to go to France and Malaysia not to jail?

Well, being in jail could be good for getting public sympathy but it is not good

for the party. We need him to be involved and he can't be from a jail cell. Also,

the opposition would use this - claim NRP had no leader and that Ranariddh was never

coming out of jail. We don't want that. The second issue is his safety in jail. Prey

Sar is not like the ECCC - Nuon Chea probably has better treatment there than some

at Prey Sar. The prince made mistakes, but he has never killed anyone, he has never

sold anyone, he has not violated anyone's human rights. He served his country. The

Prince was president of the National Assembly, and was Prime Minister and what did

he get in return? It is very unjust.

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