The morning after the April 1 commune elections, Prince Norodom Chakrapong, acting
president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), declared his party's showing at the
polls a "success" and blasted the government for allegedly using unconstitutional
tactics to bar NRP president Prince Norodom Ranariddh from the campaign process.
Speaking from his home in central Phnom Penh, Norodom Chakrapong said he is not discouraged with the NRP's poor showing in the recent commune elections. Given that the deck was stacked against them, the 472 first and second deputy positions his party did win could only be called a victory, he said.
The breakaway NRP was formed after Ranariddh's October 2006 ouster from Funcinpec,
the party he founded and led since 1991. According to the most recent NEC results,
the NRP won none of the Kingdom's 1,621 commune chief positions, but scored 472 council
positions. Official results will not be finalized until April 24.
"It's a success for us. We're very happy," Chakrapong told the Post at
his home in Phnom Penh. "The government has condemned our president and we started
with no members and we created a party. But, people still vote for us as the number
three party. They're voting for us already."
Ranariddh, Chakrapong's older half brother, was sentenced by Phnom Penh Municipal
Court to 18 months in jail, and ordered to pay $150,000 to Funcinpec, after finding
him guilty of breach of trust regarding the sale of Funcinpec's headquarters. On
March 18, the same court charged Ranarridh with violation of the controversial adultery
law that was passed by the National Assembly in August 2006. Ranarridh has been in
France for most of 2007, teaching law at a university in Provence, and did not participate
in the pre-election campaign.
"Prince Ranariddh is known around the world. He's an international figure, one
of the symbols of Cambodia. You cannot ignore him. He was prime minister, president
of the National Assembly, son of the retired King and brother of the King,"
said Chakrapong. "If this election is to be fair in 2008, we need Prince Ranariddh
to come back. He didn't do anything wrong."
Supporters, election monitors and diplomats have also decried the move as undermining
the democratic process.
"It's unfortunate that legal measures were used on the eve of the election to
keep a primary political opponent out of the race," said US Ambassador Joseph
Mussomeli on April 2. "Political issues should be solved politically."
Chakrapong has also been under fire for financial matters stemming from his former
role as chairman of now-defunct Royal Phnom Penh Airlines. On March 14, amid a flurry
of litigation aimed at the Royal family, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered lawyers to
probe $1.36 million in unpaid taxes owed to the Ministry of Finance. Chakrapong has
called the cases against his family "baseless and clearly political."
"The leader who runs the country doesn't respect the constitution. He uses every
means of the state, not the party, to keep [Royal family members] out of politics.
He treats everything in Cambodia like his private world," he said. "The
government is CPP now. The press is CPP, the courts are CPP, everything is CPP except
for the King - and he has no power."
Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith dismissed Chakrapong's
"He must have just woken up from somewhere and started talking like that. Actually
we have never barred anyone, but [Ranariddh] did wrong. It's not necessary for the
CPP to keep him out, because Ranariddh has never won," said Kanharith on April
5. "He is just making accusations to save face because he lost and his party
had a very bad showing."
Despite the poor performance of the NRP and other so-called Royalist parties in the
commune polls, Chakrapong, 61, believes the legacy of his father King Norodom Sihanouk
and Ranariddh still translate into popularity with the people. If Ranariddh is allowed
to return for the 2008 campaign, he said, the NRP will significantly impact the outcome.
"What is the royal family doing that is so bad? We are humble, what are we doing
wrong? People still respect us. It is as Javaranman VII said: 'the suffering of the
people is the suffering of the King and the Royal Family," he said. "The
reason we have survived until now is that my father is very popular. Poor people
love my father and the majority of the CPP leadership love my father."