Officials from the royalist Funcinpec party claimed on April 24 that three more legislators
from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) would defect ahead of July's general election.
Steering Committee member Ok Socheat said SRP legislators Monh Siyonn, Sith Ibrahim
and Sam Sundoeun would all cross to Funcinpec on April 25. Socheat's claim met with
a mixed response from the three men.
Ibrahim told the Post on April 24 that he would not defect to Funcinpec. Sundoeun
said he might defect, but added he could leave politics entirely if "they don't
appreciate" his past efforts. Siyonn said: "I am staying for now in the
Sam Rainsy Party, but tomorrow I might change my mind."
Senior royalists were buoyed by the news, saying their countermoves against increasingly
vocal attacks by the opposition on their integrity over the past year proved their
party was not crumbling.
"It was our objective to get seven MPs [from the SRP] and now we have them,"
said Ok Socheat. "Seven good MPs compared to the six we lost to the Sam Rainsy
Socheat added that MP Ismail Yusof and Neou Phirith, an under-secretary of state
at the Ministry of Social Affairs - both of whom defected to the SRP in March - wanted
to return to the royalist fold. Yusof said he had "no comment" to make
on the matter, and the Post was unable to contact Phirith by press time.
The SRP has spent much of the past year describing Funcinpec as a sinking ship after
that party's poor showing in last year's commune elections.
The opposition charged that incompetent leadership by Funcinpec's Prince Norodom
Ranariddh had rendered the royalist party weak and irrelevant in its coalition with
the Cambodian People's Party.
The disputes between the two parties have been characterized by claims and counter-claims
of defections of senior and junior party members. Rainsy recently predicted more
But with three months to go to polling day, Funcinpec has decided to fight back.
That much was clear in a letter written on April 3 from Funcinpec's Vora Huykanthoul,
secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development. The letter was addressed
to other party members.
"We decided that we have had enough of it! We refuse to be sitting ducks,"
Huykanthoul wrote. His letter accused Rainsy of being a selfish, undemocratic rabble-rouser,
and listed reasons not to vote for the SRP.
"If anybody, it is Mr Rainsy himself who exploits the misery of the people,"
Huykanthoul wrote. "He is keen on stirring unrest and causing the people to
take to the street to protest, to strike, to demonstrate, etc. However, every time
the going gets tough, there goes Mr. Rainsy, the first to flee the scene, leaving
those he is responsible for getting to the streets to scramble for themselves."
Senior Funcinpec officials said the flow of defectors had now ceased. Mu Sochua,
the Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, said it was unlikely that more senior
members would leave. Others on the Steering Committee agreed. Ok Socheat again denied
rumors that MP Princess Norodom Vacheara and Senate second vice-president Nhiek Bun
Chhay would defect.
Sochua told the Post on April 23 that the SRP's strategy to weaken her party was
"not democratic", but felt the defections of high profile Funcinpec members
did not affect the party. She claimed that for every one who left, 10,000 grassroots
members went the other way.
The minister said she was most encouraged by defections from low-level SRP members
to Funcinpec. She estimated that 300,000 grassroots supporters had defected in the
provinces because they felt isolated and neglected.
"At the base level, we're really moving forward," said Sochua. "You
cannot win an election if people at the base don't feel they're being taken care
She then presented several people at Funcinpec headquarters who claimed to be recent
defectors. They said they felt disenfranchised from Rainsy's policies.
"I thought the Sam Rainsy Party wasn't growing because Sam Rainsy only looks
out for the interests of himself, he doesn't care about other people," said
one man called Sou Dara.
Funcinpec's optimism was dismissed by the SRP. Opposition chief of cabinet, Phi Thach,
insisted that more "major political figures" would soon defect. He said
MPs, secretaries of state, and under-secretaries of state were all lining up to join
Phi Thach said he could not confirm whether the defections and counter-defections
claimed by Funcinpec were true, but remained philosophical about further potential
departures to the royalists.
"Surely [if they leave] they aren't happy with the[SRP] or they aren't happy
with the party's leadership and they try to seek a new political shelter to fight
for their political aims," said Phi Thach.
"But we only see that the Sam Rainsy Party is becoming stronger and stronger
than before," he concluded. "And this leads us to expect that Sam Rainsy
will be in the second position [after the vote] at least."