TOAN Chay was elected president of Funcinpec (No.2) at a Phnom Penh congress which
attracted Hun Sen bodyguards, some providing security and others, it seems, lending
their support as voters.
The June 1 meeting at the Chatomuk Theater was held under heavy security, provided
by CPP-aligned military police and soldiers. Hun Sen bodyguards-dressed identically
to those who were present during the Mar 30 grenade attack in a nearby park-took
up positions several streets away around the CPP compound near Wat Botum.
Other bodyguards, dressed in civilian clothes, apparently took part in the "Funcinpec"
congress, casting votes.
"I am a bodyguard of Hun Sen," said one man, wearing the white shirt
which was the standard attire of the day.
He said there were about 100 bodyguards in the audience, but wouldn't say anything
else after his colonel approached and told him to shut up.
Others among the 784 delegates who voted for Toan Chay, the Funcinpec governor
of Siem Reap who has challenged Prince Norodom Ranariddh's leadership of the party,
included children and people who were not Funcinpec members.
A 15 year-old girl said she voted 'yes' for Toan Chay because her mother told
her to do. Her mother said she didn't even know much about the congress, but had
come along because her grandfather asked her. "I do not belong to any party,"
A 60-year-old man, a mechanic who lives near Kandal Market, said he had never
attended a political meeting before and wasn't a member of Funcinpec or any other
"The Chief of the Sangkat called me yesterday afternoon and asked me to come
this morning without telling me where we would go. This morning I was brought here
with about 100 other people from the same area," he said, adding that he hoped
to get $50 from the organizers.
The congress began after buses arrived at the theater in the early morning, and
columns of mainly men filed out dressed identically in white shirts, most carrying
briefcases. They all looked suitably serious.
The meeting went ahead despite the objections of Funcinpec officials, including
the Phnom Penh governor, who had labeled it illegal. A strong contingent of CPP police
and military police-some of whom had taken up positions around the theater the night
before-turned out to give security.
In his opening speech, Toan Chay expressed his gratitude to CPP president Chea
Sim, and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, thanking them for the security.
Also attending were representatives of smaller parties which have signed alliances
with CPP in recent months.
Every member of the audience was given a paper with three boxes - "agree".
"disagree" or "no opinion" - to choose from and deliver their
verdict on Chay's candidacy to be president.
The ballot boxes were opened and the votes were counted in the course of one hour.
Seven people disagreed and six ticked the "no opinion' box, it was announced.
Chay expressed his surprise that so many people voted against him. But he was
still pleased by the results, he said.
Asked about the presence of the Hun Sen bodyguards, who are presumably unlikely
to be Funcinpec members, Toan Chay denied it, but said he could not check to see
if that were the case.
Chay said he would seek a meeting with Prince Ranariddh and ask him to convene
an extraordinary meeting of Funcinpec and settle the party's leadership issue once
and for all.
Chay-along with eight renegade Funcinpec MPs who had joined the breakaway group-have
all been expelled from the party but dispute the legality of their expulsions. The
National Assembly remains deadlocked, and unable to meet, as CPP and Funcinpec argue
over whether the eight MPs should also lose their parliamentary seats.
At the end of his congress, Chay said that he remained dedicated to the Funcinpec
promise to "protect and promote the constitutional monarchy" and recognize
King Sihanouk as "the great founder of Funcinpec". But he accused Ranariddh
of using " the King's name for gaining favor over other parties, which has caused
the King's name to get involved in politics."
His comment echoed those of Hun Sen, who has publicly suggested that members of
the Royal family should be banned from politics, while CPP newspapers have strongly
attacked the King for alleged interference in politics.
One of the points in Toan Chay's political platform for a reformed Funcinpec is
"to strengthen the alliance and cooperation with partners in the coalition government,
especially CPP." A goal which, for he and his followers at least, seems to have
already been achieved.