After nearly 20 years beset by a stream of setbacks and ever-dwindling political influence, Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced on Friday he will indefinitely step away from politics to concentrate on social and humanitarian projects.
The 68-year-old former prime minister and two other Norodom Ranariddh Party senior officials, acting president Chhim Seakleng and party spokesman Pen Sangha, announced their resignations amid a widening ideological chasm between different factions of the royalist party.
“I, Norodom Ranariddh, would like publicly to announce that the monarchy regime in Cambodia is stronger under the protection of the constitutional law and the government ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen, [so] I quit from politics and I will no longer take responsibility for all the works of the NRP,” Ranariddh wrote in a letter dated August 10 and emailed to local news agencies over the weekend.
“I would like to declare that, from now on, I will stop doing politics and will no longer be responsible for the tasks and decisions of the NRP. I will start doing social and humanitarian affairs to contribute to the national development under the reign of the [Ranariddh’s half-brother] King Norodom Sihamoni,” the prince wrote.
Ranariddh is currently in his family home in Aix-en-Provence, France, and could not be immediately contacted by the Post yesterday.
The prince’s announcement to quit politics comes after months of power struggles within, and between, the two royalist political parties, King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s former party, Funcinpec, and Ranariddh’s eponymous party, as they struggled to agree on a merger arrangement.
However, Ranariddh’s resignation letter did not specify his exact motive for resignation, and the two other quitting officials attributed their resignations to their loyalty to the now-former party leader.
Ranariddh’s constituency was in Kampong Cham.
This is the second time in Ranariddh’s beleaguered political career that he has resigned. He first resigned in October, 2008, shortly after receiving a royal pardon for a criminal fraud conviction, but returned to the political stage in 2010.
NRP secretary-general Sao Rany, who heads an NRP faction that opposed Ranariddh and has been mixed up in the very public and elaborate internal power struggle, lauded the resignation as opening the door for the highly hyped royalist parties’ merger.
Rany said yesterday the two parties had already agreed in principle to launch the congress for merging the parties on August 25, and that NRP members who did not have seats at the commune councils and the National Assembly would merge under Funcinpec.
“I think the resignation of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and two other senior officials will not affect the strategy of reuniting the royalist parties. I think it is good time for the prince to take a break, and the NRP is expected to elect the acting president by Monday [today],” Rany said.
Former NRP spokesman Pen Sangha, who followed suit with Ranariddh and resigned on Friday, told the Post he had done so because of the inappropriate political performance of a number of senior officials from the two royalist parties.
“I think the merging of the current NRP with Funcinpec without the participation of Prince Ranariddh means they will not gain votes from the loyalist grassroots,” Sangha said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitoring NGO Comfrel, doubted either royalist party would make any waves at next year’s national elections, as they have positioned themselves as “middle path parties” that want to maintain power by working with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
“I think that the prince will soon return to politics, but within this transition period of politics moving into two blocs, the prince had to take a break to see the position,” Panha said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay similarly said there had been a recent and rapid evolution of politics in Cambodia, one that could in time lead to a two-party system.
“In these circumstances, it will be difficult for the NRP to recover. There is the ruling CPP and now, after the hard work of the SRP and the HRP, there could be an opposition party that can secure more support, and so account for more [political] weight. It could throw away the one-party system,” Mong Hay said.
He called Ranariddh’s resignation “long overdue” after his “continued failure to regain support from the Cambodian population”.
“Furthermore, it is very doubtful whether he really could lead Cambodia, as he does not have sufficient leadership qualities,” Mong Hay said.