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
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
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
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.