Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said royalist party Funcinpec will not be investigated for requesting funds from China, despite an article in the Law on Political Parties banning parties from receiving financial support from foreign governments and institutions.
Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh told reporters on Monday that he made a request for financial backing to Chinese delegate Wang Weiguang, president of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, adding that the party had already received some equipment, such as computers.
Despite a recording existing of Ranariddh’s comments, party spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin denied the request was ever made, and Sopheak said yesterday that there is “no evidence” of wrongdoing. “I have seen that a lot of opinions have been raised, like some saying the Ministry of Interior should file a complaint to dissolve that party,” Sopheak said yesterday.
“We have not seen any actual activity yet.”
The Cambodia National Rescue Party – the country’s only viable opposition party – was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November over its own alleged ties to a foreign government. The party was accused of conspiring with the US and EU to foment “revolution”, and its leader, Kem Sokha, is imprisoned awaiting trial on “treason” charges for telling supporters he received political advice from the US.
The same law that was used to dissolve the CNRP also bans political parties from “receiving contributions in any form from foreign institutions, foreign companies, foreigners or those organisations which have foreign financing sources”.
Sopheak said yesterday that if Ranariddh sought China’s help in toppling the government – “like Kem Sokha” – then he too “will go to jail”.
“[We] have not seen anything, where did he beg? How you can accuse him? How can we file a complaint to dissolve them? We have not seen anything. Where is the evidence?” he asked.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said Ranariddh’s seemingly illegal request was a “good act”.
“As the prince stated, now he is poor and he needs to depend on foreign friends. It is his right, and we do not ban that,” Eysan said, apparently ignoring the CPP-drafted law that banned precisely that.
Funcinpec spokesman Bun Chhin said yesterday he would issue a “correction” to his previous comments claiming the request never took place. Late last night, Funcinpec released a statement telling the media that Ranariddh had merely thanked Cambodia’s “Chinese super-friend” for its continued assistance, and maintaining that “Funcinpec party never received contributions of financial aid from the Chinese Communist Party”.
Unlike Funcinpec, the CNRP represented a legitimate electoral challenge to the long-ruling CPP. In 2013, it won about 44 percent of the popular vote, gaining 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly.
Funcinpec, meanwhile, had faded into irrelevance since its 1990s heyday, only claiming about 3 percent of the vote in 2013 – not enough to win a single seat. Nonetheless, under hastily amended election laws, it was granted 41 of the CNRP’s Assembly seats following the party’s dissolution. It was one of two parties to file complaints with the Ministry of Interior seeking the CNRP’s dissolution, prompting some to question whether a political deal had been struck.
Eysan said yesterday that he was not worried that Funcinpec would become more powerful than the sitting government, which has also come to increasingly rely on Chinese support as it continues to alienate itself from the West.
“We compete and we welcome all political parties in the democratic arena to compete with each other openly and freely, and without restrictions on any party,” he said.
Eysan said the situation was different from the CNRP’s, because Funcinpec “aims to improve relations, solidarity and friendship to serve Cambodia”, whereas the CNRP “took a foreign plan . . . to topple the legal government”.
He went on to mock the opposition party, saying it will never return.
“We can compare it to the song sung by Sinn Sisamuth. The boat left the port already and said goodbye,” Eysan said.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, said the government was protecting Funcinpec because it is “their partner”.
“The allegation that the opposition colluded with foreigners had no evidence. They used a little thing to create a law and change the meaning to incriminate us,” Chanrath said.
Yoeurng Sotheara, legal officer at election monitor Comfrel, agreed that the CNRP was held to a “double standard”.
“Normally, a law is created to be applied fairly to every individual. One law cannot be interpreted differently from one group to another,” he said.
Representatives from the Chinese Embassy could not be reached yesterday.