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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ranariddh: 'Now, I am the opposition party

Ranariddh: 'Now, I am the opposition party

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Prince Ranariddh at a press conference at Hotel Le Royal on November 13.

To cries of "Chayo!, Chayo!" by several hundred faithful, the Norodom Ranariddh

Party (NRP) arose from the ashes of the little-known Khmer Front Party (KFP) on November

16, at House 79, Street 313, Toul Kok district, Phnom Penh.

The event was an extraordinary congress of the KFP held to dissolve the party and

see it reborn as the NRP, with Prince Norodom Ranariddh, recently ousted from Funcinpec,

as its first president.

"I have no choice but to accept the proposal of the front, in conformity with

the law on political parties," Ranariddh said, and told the congress that the

Ministry of Interior (MoI) was obstructing the new party's registration.

Khieu Sopheak, MoI spokesman, told the Post on November 16 the ministry will examine

the Law on Political Parties about the legality of the formation of the NRP.

"The Norodom Ranariddh Party has not yet registered with MoI, and we need to

look into the Law on Political Parties to see what is the legal procedure necessary

to allow the party," Sopheak said.

Koul Panha, executive director of the local election monitoring NGO the Committee

for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said that changing the name of

a political party already registered was not a problem.

He said the party had dissolved itself by its congress and established its new status

and needed only to notify the MoI.

Ranariddh was ousted from the presidency of Funcinpec on October 18. The move came

after a volley of statements from Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing Ranariddh of having

appointed unqualified individuals to political positions, and declaring that Ranariddh's

mistress, Ouk Phalla, was a moral embarrassment.

After his removal from Funcinpec's presidency, an indignant Ranariddh announced that

he would form a new party. Funcipec has not expelled him and he remains nominally

a Funcinpec member of the National Assembly, pending the Ministry of Interior's recognition

of his new party.

He resigned as President of the National Assembly on March 14, 2006 and left Cambodia

for several months. While he was away he was dismissed as co-chairman of the Council

for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) and chairman of the National Olympic Committee.

Ranariddh, who arrived back in Cambodia on November 11, said that from now on he

will spend several months in the field visiting his grassroots supporters in the

run-up to the commune council elections, scheduled for April 1, 2007.

"We do have grassroots, we do have local structures, and I will have no problem

transforming the Norodom Ranariddh Party into a very powerful party," Ranariddh

said. "Our grassroots are very powerful. When people talk about Funcinpec they

talk about Ranariddh, not Nhiek Bun Chhay, because Ranariddh is well known at the

grassroots."

Ranariddh said his new party will not merge with others, but it is ready to form

an alliance with others that share its ideas.

He said the political geography in Cambodia has changed dramatically: before, it

used to have a majority composed of the Cambodian People's Party and Funcinpec led

by Ranariddh, with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in opposition.

Now, he said, the majority is composed of the CPP, Bun Chhay's Funcinpec, and the

SRP.

"Now, I am the opposition party," Ranariddh said.

He said he no longer has a relationship with the CPP's Hun Sen.

Ranariddh said he did not regret having shared power with the CPP as First Prime

Minister after Funcinpec's victory in the 1993 elections sponsored by UNTAC - a position

from which he was violently removed in July 1997.

Since that bloody day, Funcinpec has continually faltered, with repeated declines

in the number of National Assembly seats won in national elections in 1998 and 2003,

and a substantial thrashing in commune council elections in 2004.

"Whether my popularity is still strong or not, you will see the result of the

commune election," Ranariddh said. "I do not need to restore my popularity

because every time I go into the field my grassroots are dedicated and entirely loyal

to me."

"I do not expect to cooperate with the CPP because I think that... I do not

regret it ... but I think my three experiences [the 1993, 1998, and 2003 governments]

have been very bitter, and not only for me but also the country as well. I am confident

that I will have a good result [in future elections]," Ranariddh said.

Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for both the CPP and the government, could not be contacted

before press deadline.

Comfrel's Panha said he agreed with Ranariddh that his grassroots supporters remain

strong, but said the prince must work hard with a real political commitment to strengthen

the grassroots infrastructures.

"I think that not only do the grassroots still support Ranariddh but there are

also Funcinpec officials who have seats in the government who are waiting to see

his commitment, and they will reveal themselves ahead of national elections,"

Panha said.

Ranariddh told congress participants that the NRP will bring a new culture of justice

and real democracy as his party will adopt the Singapore model.

"Our party is determined to protect the constitutional monarchy, and progress

and liberty. Today is born our new culture ...the culture of justice"

In a statement issued on November 14, a Funcinpec spokesman accused the NRP of being

republican because of the party's declared intention to change the country's motto

from Nation, Religion, King, to become Liberty, Democracy and Territorial Sovereignty.

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