IT was, by any judgment, an extraordinary turn-of-events. Two years ago, Prince Norodom
Ranariddh led the ousting of Sam Rainsy from Funcinpec and the National Assembly,
at one point declaring of Rainsy: "I am sorry that he is a Khmer. I'm sorry
that he is a member of Parliament. I'm sorry that he is a member of Funcinpec."
Last week - as Funcinpec and Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party formerly joined in the National
United Front (NUF) - Ranariddh truly had a change of heart, describing Rainsy as
not only "respected" but "beloved".
Nobody at the Feb 27 inaugural congress of NUF seemed to want to remember the rhetoric
of the past, content with the soothing language of the present.
Ranariddh warmly praised Rainsy, a man whose party the Funcinpec leader had declared
as illegal when it was started. So too for Son Sann, leader of one faction of the
divided Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP), as he joined Rainsy and Ranariddh
in the official NUF launch.
Not so long ago, when Son Sann tried to hold a party congress, Ranariddh had condemned
it as an illegal gathering.
But times have changed. "For us, Funcinpec, BLDP is only one [party] with only
one president," Ranariddh said in reference to Son Sann during his speech at
"Respected His Excellency Buor Hel," the prince called the president of
Khmer Neutral Party, a partner in the front.
Moving on to Sam Rainsy, Ranariddh may have felt that the word "respect"
was not enough.
"Respected...may I add 'beloved' Sam Rainsy," Ranariddh addressed his former
The Ranariddh-initiated NUF was born in a spectacular inauguration, witnessed by
more than 1,000 guests, at Chatomouk Theater. It groups Funcinpec, the KNP, Son Sann's
BLDP faction and the Khmer Neutral Party.
Buoyed up by roaring applause from the audience, Ranariddh was made the leader -
for the first term - of NUF. The length of each presidential term is not yet clear,
yet to be determined by NUF statutes now being drafted.
Rainsy told the launch that the front's formation is aimed at solving vital issues
facing the nation. Watched and applauded by Ranariddh, the KNP president went on
to list those issues.
"First is territorial integrity and national sovereignty which has been violated
by foreign aggressors," he said in an apparent reference to Vietnam.
"Second is dictatorship and the endless and grave abuse of human rights. Third
is corruption caused by disrespect of laws, which leads our country to be overwhelmed
by injustices," he said.
Beaming, Ranariddh raised his hands high and applauded.
The Ieng Sary-led Democratic National Union Movement (DNUM) did not formally join
the coalition, but its representative Sok Pheap - the former Khmer Rouge military
chief of Phnom Malai - turned up at the event with more than 20 other delegates.
In a brief speech to the NUF faithful, Pheap threw "100 percent support"
behind the coalition's political platform. Former senior KR Ta Sou, Funcinpec General
Nhek Bun Chhay's uncle, was among the delegates who were flown in from the northwest
to take part in the occasion.
"I'm very satisfied that a large part of the [former] KR - my compatriots -
are clearly and publicly supporting us," Ranariddh said.
Except for the little-known Khmer Neutral Party, the front is made up of old colleagues
who have a common background. The KR, Funcinpec and KPNLF - the forerunner of BLDP
- fought shoulder-to-shoulder in resisting the Vietnamese-backed State of Cambodia
in the 1980s.
"This coalition re-creates an old coalition which used to fight the Vietnamese-backed
regime - the Hun Sen government. [It's also] a re-creation of political strength
of the royalists," historian Raoul Jennar said.
Referring to the revival of warm relations between Ranariddh and Rainsy, Jennar said:
"Observers like us have seen two different Ranariddhs over the past four years.
Which kind of Ranariddh is to be trusted today?"
NUF's 14-article political platform outlines demands for setting up a body to look
into and re-acquire lost state properties for the public interest - the CPP has long
objected to this move. In a thinly veiled reference to Vietnam, the issues of border
disputes and illegal immigrants are also included in the platform. The front is in
support of single premiership emerging from the next elections which must be free
NUF was a "great political movement", Ranariddh said, adding that its formation
has boosted his chances of winning the next polls.
"Funcinpec alone already has a great chance, but when we are joining hands in
the framework of the front the chance [for victory] is really strong," he said.
Jennar seemed to share the prince's belief, but said: "Ranariddh knows very
well [that] Funcinpec alone has a limited chance to win the election." Allying
Funcinpec, KNP and the Son Sann-led BLDP faction may increase their chances to win
and "that's the motivation of Ranariddh," he said.
"My question is [whether] the coalition is being created to win the election
- to implement step-by-step democracy - or to rule Cambodia in the traditional authoritarian
way?" Jennar asked.
Jennar described the new alliances being formed by both Funcinpec and CPP as a political
game, preferable to factional fighting between the parties.
"It's better to see things like this rather than [seeing] soldiers from the
same army with different political opinions. It's not good for political stability
and the future of democracy if the army expresses political opinions," he said.