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