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Ranariddh returns to politics

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prince Norodom Ranariddh talks to reporters in Kampong Cham province after announcing his return to politics as head of Nationalist Party, on Saturday.

KAMPONG CHAM PROVINCE

FORMER prime minister and political heavyweight Prince Norodom Ranariddh has announced his return to political life, raising hopes of a resurrection in the fortunes of the Kingdom’s moribund royalist movement.

Speaking to more than 500 supporters in Kampong Cham province on Saturday, Prince Ranariddh said he would soon return to head the Nationalist Party, which plans to re-adopt its old name, the Norodom Ranariddh Party, at a party congress this week.

“I am preparing myself to lead the Norodom Ranariddh Party,” he said. “Doing politics is the same as being addicted to opium, but what is important is that there have been a lot of petitions inviting me to lead the Norodom Ranariddh Party,” he added.

Ranariddh, who retired from politics in October 2008, hurled criticism at his former Funcinpec party colleagues, accusing them of selling themselves to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in exchange for government posts and other personal benefits.

He said he had rejected appeals for him to return to the party, which removed him as its president in 2006, and called on all royalist supporters to gather under the NP/NRP umbrella.

“Please members of Funcinpec, come back to me. What is the importance of rotten posts!” he said. “I will not return to Funcinpec, because Funcinpec is just a party serving [the CPP].”

The Prince’s return could throw the ailing royalist movement into further disarray, with plans for a merger between the NP/NRP and Funcinpec now in progress. Since 2006, when Ranariddh was removed from his post as Funcinpec party president in connection with claims he embezzled party funds, the royalist movement has stagnated.

The two royalist parties won only four seats at the 2008 national elections and a merger plan, more than a year in the making, is seen as the key to reviving their fortunes.

Ranariddh said yesterday that he was still committed to the merger, but that Funcinpec’s secretary general, Nhek Bun Chhay, and Keo Puth Reaksmey, its president, no longer had the support of the people.

He also promised to take a centrist approach to politics, pledging not to support or criticise the government on any subject without good reason. As an example, he lashed out at National Assembly President Heng Samrin and his deputy Nguon Nhel, criticising them for stamping out freedom of expression in the parliament.

“When I was president, Sam Rainsy insulted me, and I allowed him to talk freely,” Ranariddh said, referring to the head of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Local supporters of Ranariddh hailed the announcement on Saturday, expressing hopes that Ranariddh, who served as “first” prime minister from 1993 until 1997, would again lead the country.

“I came here to invite the Prince to lead the NRP because he has done a lot to build the country,” said Seng Kuo, 62, from Pea Raing district, in nearby Prey Veng province.

Nhem Sophy, a 40-year-old supporter from Kang Meas district, said other parties had “badly treated” the people. “I hope that he will lead well if he is elected,” she said.

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