FORMER prime minister and Royalist figurehead Prince Norodom Ranariddh has said he is again ready to serve the nation, more than a year after he returned from exile and announced his withdrawal from active politics.
In an interview with Rasmey Kampuchea newspaper published on Friday, Ranariddh said he was ready to serve the government if called upon by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I have always been prepared – anytime, any day. I have a title to accompany the King, but I have long prepared myself for government service,” he said in the interview.
“If Samdech wants to call me anytime, even if I’m not in the country, I have the ability to return.”
Ranariddh stopped short of declaring his intention to re-enter the political fray, saying that although he was once a professional politician, he could serve the government in other capacities including diplomacy.
“I do not have a wish [to reenter politics],” he said. “Any day Samdech needs me in any department, I have the ability to serve.”
Ranariddh returned from exile in Malaysia in September 2008 after receiving a royal pardon for a 2007 fraud conviction. The following month, he publicly announced his intention to walk away from active politics, taking up a post as a senior adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni, his half-brother.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Ranariddh and Hun Sen – once fierce rivals – now enjoyed a friendly political relationship, but warned that the Prince’s current role prevented him from re-entering politics.
“Being an adviser to the King, he has to be with the King; he cannot enter politics,” Khieu Kanharith said. “As chief adviser to the King is how we receive him.”
Some other observers raised questions about the intentions behind Ranariddh’s comments.
“It’s not a surprise because I don’t think he can stay idle without doing any political activities,” said Son Soubert, a member of the Human Rights Party who sits on the Constitutional Council. Although it was difficult to see what role he could play in government, Son Soubert said Ranariddh could potentially bring a sense of balance to Cambodian politics.
Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst based in Phnom Penh, said Cambodian politics was often marked by win-win compromises and that it was possible the ruling party would find a position to accommodate Ranariddh. She did warn, however, that his chance for advancement might be limited in the current government.
“At a professional level, he might be able to contribute his knowledge and professional experience, but at the very top there are few seats available,” she said.
HRP President Kem Sokha, a former close colleague of Prince Ranariddh, said his reputation as the man who who led Funcinpec to victory at the 1993 election would ensure he would not give up politics easily.
“I don’t believe that a history-making politician can give up politics right away while our country’s political problems are still unresolved,” he said.