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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Smiles all round as one-time foes join hands in NUF

Smiles all round as one-time foes join hands in NUF

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

the launch.

"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

nemesis.

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

and fair.

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.

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