The October 18 dismissal of Prince Norodom Ranariddh from the helm of Funcinpec has
the reshuffled leadership bullish about its "new image" and allegedly overhauled
alliance with the ruling CPP - but some longtime loyalists, politicians and opposition
leaders are still saying the party's over.
What retired King Norodom Sihanouk, founder of Funcinpec and Ranariddh's father,
referred to as a "coup d'parti," has set off a firestorm of allegations
and acrimony and has self-proclaimed Royalists of all stripes sounding off about
what that term actually means in the new political arena.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior has yet to approve Ranariddh's bid to launch
the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which would become the third political party claiming
to be Royalist.
"Now, the most Royalist party is the CPP - without them this country could not
be called the Kingdom of Cambodia," Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Funcinpec's new
Second Deputy President, told the Post on October 31. "They are the true Royalists
because without Samdech Hun Sen how can the monarchy survive?"
Such pronouncements, in this case from a Royal Family member and former Ambassador
to the US, make for heated debate, questionable logic and have many observers pointing
to manipulation on the part of the CPP. Despite a public announcement by Nhiek Bun
Chhay on October 31 that there was "no influence of the CPP" at the party's
congress, Sirirath said such overlap is unavoidable.
"We are partners with the CPP, so any decision is made jointly with Hun Sen,"
Sirirath said. "He's the top of the hill in political matters."
Sirirath was quick to dispel any rumors of a rift between branches of the Royal Family.
"When Prince Ranariddh was removed he and some others said it was a coup from
the Sisowath branch against the Norodoms," he said. "But he just happens
to be a Norodom. My mother and grandfather were Norodoms. It's so sad that he doesn't
know his own history."
Funcinpec Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay made a similar statement at Funcinpec
headquarters on October 31.
"It is not right to accuse me of setting up a coup to expel [those of] Norodom
blood out of politics. You can see that we still have members of Royalty in Funcinpec,"
he said. "We ousted the prince because our objective is to reform the party.
We have no intention to abolish the monarchy."
Sirirath is Ranriddh's cousin and son of the late Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, who
was complicit in the 1970 Lon Nol coup that ousted Head of State Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Sirirath was formerly married to Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, Sihanouk's niece,
who is now the wife of newly installed Funcinpec president Keo Puth Rasmey.
"The problems inside Funcinpec are not about the Royalist members or non-Royalist
members. The removal of Prince Ranariddh was a political strategy of the CPP who
wanted to strengthen its power in the coalition government by kicking out the members
of Funcinpec that would stand up against the CPP," said Prince Sisowath Thomico,
head of the fledgling Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party. "Everyone knows that the
only person in Funcinpec with the influence and popularity to work against the CPP
is Prince Ranariddh. In Khmer society, only the monarchy can stand up to the CPP
but it needs a nationalist movement behind it."
Recently expelled senior minister Serei Kosal, a long-time Ranariddh loyalist and
a former general of Funcinpec forces, claims that the prince's removal was the result
of internal treachery and a brazen power grab by Bun Chhay. A Funcinpec statement
released after the National Assembly voted to replace Kosal and nine other Funcinpec
lawmakers, said they were "unqualified" for their positions.
"History will consider the events of October 18 as a coup. It is the result
of a betrayal by Nhiek Bun Chhay, Lu Lay Sreng and Prince Sirirath - Keo Puth Rasmey
is not important," Kosal said on October 30. "The real Funcinpec is finished.
Its mission is over. I do not support their betrayal and I was never part of the
October 18 faction. Now we must transfer our mission to the real Royalist party,
the Norodom Ranariddh Party."
In the 1970s Kosal helped form the Neak Sar "White Dragon" resistance movement
against the Khmer Rouge and, later, the Sereika movement fighting Vietnamese occupation.
In 1988 he was one of only two military leaders to be personally awarded the prestigious
medal of national defense from Sihanouk, then head of Funcinpec. The other was Nhiek
"I've worked for Funcinpec since 1979. We will always remember the events of
1997 and the sacrifices of Funcinpec members who died," he said. "I've
known [Nhiek Bun Chhay] since the resistance. He must always be the top, the big
man. His behavior hasn't changed. He is only interested in self-benefit. I was expelled
because only I can anger him."
"He's the biggest liar in the world. The champion of liars," Kosal said.
Kosal's hard-line loyalty is rare at a time when criticizing Ranariddh - for issues
ranging from corruption to extra-marital affairs - has become a common political
pursuit. It remains to be seen what current members of Funcinpec will join the prince's
potential new party.
"We're trying to clean up the image of the party. The Ranariddh loyalist faction
is like a cancer - we need to decide whether to operate or let it die," Sirirath
said. "We are slowly approaching each individual and we'll ask if they're with
us or if they want to leave. No decisions have been made yet. The major removal was
the prince himself."
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a former Funcinpec member, is distancing himself from
the whole affair, and eager to capitalize on any splintering of political opponents.
"He got what he deserved," Rainsy said of Ranariddh on November 1. "He
led the party to one defeat after another. He led in an autocratic way and indulged
in corruption. He is a prince without principles."