Prince Norodom Ranariddh (l), head of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, shares a toast with Funcinpec party President Nhek Bun Chhay (r) after signing an agreement to merge the two parties yesterday. Photograph: Stringer
The on-again, off-again dance between Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party finally concluded yesterday, with the two opposition royalist parties agreeing to merge following the June 3 commune elections.
Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party met with the leaders of the parties yesterday morning to encourage them to agree to the merger, officials said.
Shortly after the meeting, Funcinpec secretary-general Nhek Bun Chhay and Prince Norodom Ranariddh signed an agreement to join forces under the auspices of the Funcinpec party to run in the national elections in July next year.
The agreement was signed at the cabinet of the premier in the Peace Palace, and the parties said it marked the end to a six-year rift between the royalist groups sparked when Prince Norodom Ranariddh was ousted as president of Funcinpec.
In late 2010, the parties began discussing the possibility of a merger, but it failed to materialise amid disagreements on a number of issues, including the name.
Norodom Ranariddh will assume presidency of the united Funcinpec party, and current Funcinpec president Bun Chhay will be appointed vice president.
“The merger is to mobilise royalists, Sihanoukists and to be a real national force to work with the national force [of the ruling CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen] in order to serve the nation,” Norodom Ranariddh told reporters after the signing.
“Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen has strongly expressed his concern over the split of the monarchy political parties, and this shows that the premier is also the monarchy,” the prince said.
“I have expressed my gratefulness and loyalty to the premier, and from the moment of this merging today, we will stop discussing who was wrong and who was right – our destination is for reconciliation,” he said.
Factional infighting over power and money within and between the two royalist groups has plagued the parties.
Norodom Ranariddh’s 2006 ouster was accompanied by allegations that he embezzled funds from the sale of the party’s headquarters.
The two parties won two seats each of the total 123 seats in the National Assembly in the national election in 2008.
Asian Human Rights Commission senior researcher Lao Mong Hay said it was unusual that the parties met with the premier before their merger.
“It will be very difficult for the parties here to show credibility vis-à-vis the electorate. Both have had experience working with the CPP, and we have seen that association with the CPP has not been doing any good to them,” Lao Mong Hay said.
Infighting over the past few years has also caused serious damage to the parties, Lao Mong Hay said.
“It might be a bit difficult to mend that lack of reputation or bad reputation,” he said, pointing out that both sides had been marginalised by defeats.
Still, the new Funcinpec’s allegiance to Prime Minister Hun Sen shouldn’t come as a shock, Lao Mong Hay said.
“It’s not surprising at all. Perhaps both sides [NRP and Funcinpec] have departed from each other before for many years, and now that they have realised there is no future in that, they must be allied,” he said.