Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - F'pec wonders 'Where's the party?'

F'pec wonders 'Where's the party?'

F'pec wonders 'Where's the party?'

DESPITE tentative steps towards a United Nations-monitored return of Cambodia's self-exiled

politicians, deposed First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh has claimed that his

fellow Funcinpec members will not return, and that his party will boycott elections,

if he is not permitted back into the country.

But the potential effectiveness of such a boycott is questionable, given the fractured

state of the Funcinpec party and the plethora of opinions within it.

Party president Ranariddh said in an Oct 2 statement: "Without my presence at

the May 1998 elections, Funcinpec will not participate in the elections and the exiled

personalities from Funcinpec will not agree to return to Cambodia until I am allowed

to do so also, with full guarantees for my safety and freedom of movement and expression."

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has said repeatedly that Ranariddh is free to return,

but must face criminal charges when he does. A provision of the draft election law

would bar the Prince from running for office if he is convicted.

Meanwhile, after the United Nations Credentials Committee decision to leave Cambodia's

UN seat indefinitely vacant, both Hun Sen and Ranariddh visited the UN in New York

to lobby their causes late last month.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met separately with Ranariddh and Hun Sen on Sept

30. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said later that discussions were being held as to how

the UN could facilitate "the return of politicians and members of parliament

with a view to ensuring that elections can be held in a free, fair and credible manner."

Eckhard said a precise role for UN monitoring had not been established. Other UN

sources suggested a written guarantee of the safety of returning exiles could be

given to Kofi Annan by Hun Sen.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who also met separately with Ranariddh and

Hun Sen in New York, said Oct 3 that the rival Cambodian leaders had agreed to the

UN monitoring the return of exiles.

"The United Nations would observe, would be the eyes and ears of their return...

ensuring that nothing untoward was happening," Alatas said, speaking as a member

of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) mediation team.

However, "little headway" had been made toward getting charges against

Ranariddh dropped, Alatas said. Hun Sen still insisted that Ranariddh should face


Alatas also reported that neither of the rival Cambodian leaders were willing to

talk yet about a permanent cease-fire to the guerrilla war being waged in Cambodia's

north, though they might agree to a temporary one.

Meanwhile, while Hun Sen continued his diplomatic efforts abroad - he was scheduled

to meet the French Foreign Minister Oct 6, and one of his Ministers, Sok An, earlier

visited China - several opposition figures were already planning their return to


Khmer Nation Party leader Sam Rainsy has said that he intends to return to Cambodia

later this month, while Funcinpec MP Om Radsady also announced his imminent return.

Radsady, the chairman of the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee, said

in a Sept 28 statement that he would come back "to fulful my responsibilities

and duties in the National Assembly" on Oct 15.

Rainsy, Radsady and National Assembly vice-president Son Soubert, of the Buddhist

Liberal Democratic Party, are expected to return together but Rainsy has indicated

they do not intend to stay permanently. No mention has been made of Ranariddh's return.

In Phnom Penh, Funcinpec dean Nady Tan suggested that any boycott of the elections

by Ranariddh would result in a new party being formed by Funcinpec remnants.

"The bylaws are clear, Ranariddh is the president. If the president does not

want Funcinpec to participate, it's his right and his decision. We obey his decision

- but for all of us, we have to do something else."

Hinting that the persistent rumours of a new royalist party being formed may be true,

he said: "We have to continue our duty to our constituents... If Funcinpec does

not want to participate in elections, Funcinpec is over already. So... either we

stay as civil servants, or we form a new party, or we all quit and retire."

Another high-level party member inside Cambodia, who spoke on condition of anonymity,

said: "If a new party is started that is loyal to Ranariddh, I'll join. If not,

I'll wait until those exiled MPs return. I don't support Ranariddh personally, but

I do support democracy and real progress in Cambodia. If Nady Tan or Loy Sim Chheang

have money, they can start a new party, but for the moment, as far as I can see,

these people have no money."

Nady Tan said that any decisions about Funcinpec's future would have to be made by

the party's steering committee. Alluding to the factional in-fighting between the

party remnants in Cambodia, he said the steering committee "will meet sooner

or later, but it's difficult as we have no place to meet".

It is yet another Funcinpec faction, led by Siem Reap governor Toan Chay, which seems

to have access to both offices and money. The faction, which broke away from Ranariddh

in April, elected Toan Chay and Doung Khem president and vice-president and has continued

to use the Funcinpec name.

Press reports that Doung Khem and his allies have taken sole control of the Funcinpec

headquarters in Phnom Penh were confirmed by Nady Tan and others from his group.

"I would like to say that the Funcinpec headquarters is for all Funcinpec members,

but members have some different views on how the party should operate," said

Pou Sothirak, the Funcinpec Minister of Industry.

The breakaway faction is unconcerned by Ranariddh's threatened election boycott,

according to MP Ros Hean. "It's the Prince's problem, not a Funcinpec problem.

We are talking about Cambodia... if he wants to boycott, it is his right, but for

Funcinpec members, they want to have the election."

Some party members have accused the renegade faction of being merely a front for

Hun Sen. "Real Funcinpec members don't want to join them... Obviously Hun Sen

is behind the split, so [the renegades] are still organized by Hun Sen", said

a high-level Ranariddh loyalist.

Toan Chay himself has acknowledged Hun Sen's help. In a late-August interview with

the Post, he said, "Hun Sen gave me $10,000 to go to the States [after July

6] but I spent it on debts before I left. I asked him for the money after he said

publicly that he supports me. He wants Funcinpec to stay alive. The CPP cannot work

alone... I will ask him again, if we don't have money for the [proposed party] congress."

Toan Chay downplayed the importance of Funcinpec being independent of Hun Sen's Cambodian

People's Party. "Each one is dependent on the other. I need them, they need

me. That's cooperation, that's better than sharing power."

Further complicating the Funcinpec picture is the fact that some members outside

Toan Chay's group would agree that dependence on Hun Sen is necessary for the party's

immediate survival. One senior member, aligned with Nady Tan's faction, said that

Funcinpec should work together with CPP in a non-confrontational way.

"When they [CPP] feel a threat, they are not secure. If we accept them as a

partner for the sake of nation building, when the country slowly improves, from there

you can talk about real democracy, opposition, etc." It might take a few election

terms before real opposition is possible, the source said.

Efforts to form a new party are doomed to fail, the source added, without a credible

leader. "Take my word, the election winner will only be CPP, Funcinpec, Sam

Rainsy or [CPP dissident] Pen Sovann. Personality is important.

"People say to me: 'Toan Chay has no charisma and is the source of the party

breakup... we don't want to work with Ung Huot, he's just a puppet... Nady Tan is

too old, Loy Sim Chheang we don't trust'," the source attested.

One European political analyst agreed that the party is in trouble. "Today it's

completely broken, it's grouped around individuals, without a structure or a party

platform." And Ranariddh's return might do little to ameliorate the situation.

"Will Funcinpec people accept him again as the leader? I don't know if Ung Huot,

Toan Chay, and others who expressed disagreement and frustration with him will."

The analyst also surmised that if the government makes efforts to prepare credible

elections, the world may not consider Ranariddh's return to be crucial. "There

was a coup, sure, but in the minds of the international community, if there is a

framework for free and fair elections, the Ranariddh issue... becomes an issue of

an individual."


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