A RIVAL Funcinpec, true to form to Cambodia's trend of fractured political parties,
was launched in Paris last weekend with more of a whimper than a bang.
Eighteen people attended a so-called "Funcinpec World Congress" to elect
a new party president to 'replace' Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Nev Se, a congress organizer and newly-elected Secretary-General of the breakaway
group, claimed nearly 300 proxy votes were also sent by Funcinpec members in Cambodia,
France and Canada.
The new Funcinpec "president" is Suos Pom, a 50-year-old midwife, who is
also a member of Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party (KNP).
Rainsy, widely believed to be supporting the Funcinpec renegades, denied any direct
link to them.
Most significant was the absence from the congress of Funcinpec's former Secretary-General
Prince Norodom Siri-vudh, in exile in Paris, after he had been touted as a candidate
for the president's position.
The location of the July 21 congress was changed to a bigger venue at the last minute
because of expectations that "more than 200 people" would attend, Nev Se
told a Post correspondent in Paris.
However, he said the actual turnout totaled 18 people - four organizers and 14 others
- although 203 proxy votes were sent from Cambodia, 44 from France and two or three
Rejecting any suggestion of disappointment at the result, Nev Se said that "this
is the beginning of the unrest within Funcinpec" and little by little "the
real Funcinpec" would join the mavericks.
Congress participants, all described as card-holding Funcinpec members, amended party
by-laws to make them "truly democratic" and declared their lack of confidence
They reaffirmed loyalty to King Norodom Sihanouk, Funcinpec's founder, and appealed
to "all Cambodian patriotic and democratic" forces to unite to "overthrow
the totalitarian communist regime which serves foreign interests."
Suos Pom was elected Funcinpec president, with Sun Samphi as vice-president and Nev
Sam Rainsy, in Phnom Penh, confirmed that several in the breakaway group, including
Suos Pom, were members of KNP.
Denying any "official involvement on the part of KNP's leadership in the internal
affairs of Funcinpec", he said any KNP members involved with the congress were
acting as "individuals."
Some 70 percent of KNP members also belonged to Funcinpec, he said, and "they
are entitled to contest the Funcinpec leadership, but under their Funcinpec hat."
Earlier, the congress had been announced in a unsigned statement sent by facsimile
from the KNP in Phnom Penh.
The statement, warning that Funcinpec was headed for disaster under Ranariddh, said
Sirivudh had been "approached" to be a presidential candidate at the congress.
But Sirivudh did not attend. Repeated Post efforts to contact him for comment in
Paris were unsuccessful.
However, Rainsy told a Phnom Penh press conference that Sirivudh had earlier told
him he was ready to head an alliance of opposition groups.
Sirivudh - exiled last year over an alleged plot to kill Hun Sen - also said that
he was prepared to return home and go to prison if need be, according to Rainsy.
Funcinpec officials in Phnom Penh reacted angrily to the Paris congress, issuing
a statement urging journalists to stop reporting "groundless" information
about a Funcinpec split.
The statement affirmed that there was only one Funcinpec party, founded by the King
and led by Ranariddh.
Political observers, meanwhile, said a key issue was whether the King would denounce
the breakaway group for using Funcinpec's name.
Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, Ly Thuch, said: "The King is neutral and independent.
He doesn't need to make any comment. He is above the party, and he knows that his
son is a good leader of Funcinpec."
The only hint of the King's views were included in the latest monthly bulletin issued
by the Palace, which included a copy of the statement announcing the congress and
newspaper clippings about it.
In handwritten annotations to the statement, the King wrote that the ancient Khmer
Empire and that of Angkor would not have survived if Cambodians had quarreled and
fought each other.
Once Khmers started to become divided, he wrote, Cambodia had begun its long decline.
In notes written on a newspaper clipping, the King suggested the congress was a "coup
de Jarnac" ("decisive and unexpected blow", according to the Oxford
Hachette French dictionary) by the "Rainsy-ists."
Next to a quote from a Funcinpec official that the party was "not afraid"
of the congress, the King wrote: "Not afraid. Bravo! Worried? Not even, I think!"