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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Troubled Funcinpec on the ropes

Troubled Funcinpec on the ropes

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Tran Van Minh
His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, accompanied by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, reviews the honor guard at Vietnam's Presidential Palace in Hanoi on March 16 during the King's first official visit to Vietnam. King Sihamoni also met with Communist Party Secretary-General Nong Duc Manh. The Royal delegation also visited Halong Bay for a bit of sightseeing.

Relationships of convenience being what they are - stormy, opportunistic and based on mutual benefit alone - it is perhaps noteworthy that the crumbling political marriage between Hun Sen's CPP and Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Funcinpec has lasted as long as it has.

After all, when the coalition Royal Government was formed November 23, 1998, to break a post-election impasse, it had been just over a year since the new "partners" had clashed in armed combat. As former Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin said at the time "the Cambodian political elites went from wounding mutual abuse to a coalition in less than a week."

Even then observers were calling a "two-headed government," between royalists and former communists, unworkable because of "strong class overtones." The Post reported in 1998 that "Funcinpec lacked the human resources and network of party allies to carry out administrative tasks effectively."

But today - a little more than seven years later - the coalition partnership is still governing the country. And only in the light of recent moves by Hun Sen have officials and analysts been forced to decide whether such critical comments were premature or prescient.

A series of sackings and verbal attacks against Funcinpec and its Royal leaders has left the junior coalition partner in disarray and has opposition leader Sam Rainsy bullish about his party's future.

"In 2008 there will be only two major parties competing against each other - the CPP and SRP - and I put in them in that order out of politeness," Rainsy told the Post on March 23.

"I think that not only has Funcinpec been getting weaker and weaker, now they are split into several groups in the party leadership. Now the royals are grouping to protest against their elimination by the commoners - and it is strange that in a royalist party the royals are being sidelined."

Ranariddh, who said he resigned on March 3 as President of National Assembly to be closer to party followers, left for France on March 14. His departure came in the wake of harsh criticisms of Funcinpec officials by Hun Sen on the issues of nepotism, extramarital affairs, incompetence and lavish spending on sporting events.

"I think Prince Ranarddh should have resigned a long time ago," Rainsy said. "His party went from 58 MPs in 1993, to 43 in 1998, to 26 MPs in 2003. He shouldn't have waited for people to ask him to leave. I am sure that Hun Sen does not respect Prince Ranariddh."

Prince Norodom Sirivudh, fired on March 3 from his position as Co-Minister of Interior Minster by Hun Sen was removed as Funcinpec party secretary-general on March 5, by Ranariddh.

On March 21 the National Assembly, while ratifying Sirivudh's removal as a co-minister, also took away his Deputy Prime Ministership when he received only 17 of 111 MPs' votes for the job.

The move prompted one Funcinpec official to question the actions of some party members.

"I think that besides criticism by Prime Minister Hun Sen, there were several members of Funcinpec who pressed for the removal of my brother [Sirivudh], and it was not fair for him," said Princess Norodom Vacheara. "It was not necessary to remove my brother to reform the party. All political strategy is decided by the President of the party and other Funcinpec top officials."

Vacheara told the Post on March 23 that a reshuffle of Funcinpec will break unity inside the party and the ruling CPP will try to lure several key members away from Funcinpec.

"I worry about Funcinpec now," Vacheara said. "It is not the real Royalist party established by King Father Norodom Sihanouk and should be changed to another name."

Ranariddh on March 5 named Prince Norodom Chakrapong as secretary-general of Funcinpec, causing tumult within the party ranks.

Ranariddh changed his mind and on March 18 gave the job instead to Nhiek Bun Chhay, who had been fired by Hun Sen as Co-Minister of Defense on March 3 but was re-elected to his Deputy Prime Minister post by the National Assembly.

Senior Funcinpec member Serei Kosal said he agreed with some of Hun Sen's criticisms of Funcinpec leaders' behavior. He called on Bun Chhay to be committed to reform of the party in order to gain support from members and voters and to appoint a qualified person to work with the CPP in the coalition government.

"I hesitate to say that Prince Sirivudh was fired because of nepotism or corruption, but you can see the result of the votes [in the National Assembly]," Kosal said. "However, I praise him because he has stepped down from the job in the interests of the party. I think that at this moment, Bun Chhay is the right person to work as partners in the current coalition government."

On March 21, the National Assembly elected CPP member and former prime minister Heng Samrin as its president, the CPP's Ngoun Nhel as first vice president, and Funcinpec's You Hokry second vice president.

Kosal said Funcinpec was declining because of the corruption and nepotism within the party. He urged Funcinpec leaders to appoint officials into government position who are sensitive to the power-sharing system between the CPP and Funcinpec.

He criticized some high-ranking Funcinpec officials in the government for being inactive.

"I think that the new secretary-general must carefuly look into these issues and fire some members in order to get qualified human resources and honesty back for the party," said Kosal. "But to do so, there is need to have a green light from Samdech Hun Sen."

Ly Thuch, Funcinpec parliamentarian, said that he expected the newly appointed party secretary-general to work well at political cooperation with the CPP and would help rebuild Funcinpec strength ahead of the upcoming commune elections in 2007 and national election in 2008.

Ok Serei Sopheak, a veteran political analyst said on March 22 that Funcinpec is the only political party that hands power entirely to the President with the Steering Committee playing only an advisory role.

"I think contentious issues are the jobs that party leaders promise for Funcinpec supporters at the commune and village levels," said Sopheak. "The party also needs to reassure voters about the criticism from Hun Sen. Funcinpec supporters are very confused."

He said Funcinpec has only 11 months to strengthen its infrastructure from the top to bottom before the commune elections.

But Rainsy said the behavior of Funcinpec's Royal members and the subsequent public backlash may detract from the lasting legacy of the monarchy.

"I think Funcinpec is jeopardizing the future of the monarchy by tarnishing the image of the Royals," Rainsy said. "Those who love the monarchy and who want to preserve it as an institution, should encourage Royals who are involved in politics to withdraw. When they are involved in politics, they are just as naughty as other politicians."

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