The infighting at top levels of the Norodom Ranariddh Party turned into a full-blown political brawl over the weekend as officials were stripped of their titles and vowed to sue in return.
After the secretary-general of NRP and five of his deputies tried to oust Ranariddh last week by publicly urging him to step down – so as to smooth the path for a political merger with the Funcinpec party – leadership responded by relieving the mutinous members of their titles, a decision that limits their influence in the party.
The move prompted secretary-general Sao Rany, or rather, former secretary-general Sao Rany, to accuse NRP leadership of “faking documents” and to announce that he would ask a Phnom Penh court today to bar the party from campaign activities.
“The Prince [Ranariddh] is staying in France, but the letter [to strip us of our titles] was done in the Phnom Penh municipality, and terminated six of us from the title illegally,” Rany told reporters at a press conference yesterday.
He added that the complaint in court is intended to prevent NRP from passing any directives that would ban members like Rany from joining Funcinpec.
NRP spokesman Pen Sangha dismissed the “faking documents” allegation yesterday and confirmed that Ranariddh, the former prime minister, issued the letter to replace the high-ranking members.
Sangha said that the new secretary-general of the NRP is former Phnom Penh governor Chhim Seak Leng. Additional replacements have not been named.
“I would like to say that the decision to terminate the secretary-general and deputy secretaries-general was in an official letter of the NRP and Samdech Krom Preah [Ranariddh] recognised that the signature as his signature and is valid,” Sangha said, adding that the accusations are politically motivated.
When asked if he feels threatened by the attempts by high-ranking members to oust Ranariddh, Sangha said that no more than a dozen members jumped on board with Rany. Last week, Funcinpec party head Nhek Bun Chhay claimed that nearly 80 per cent of leadership within NRP wanted to merge with his party.
“It’s not true; look at the evidence this morning,” Sangha said, referring to the low attendance levels at Rany’s press conference. “Because very few people, around 10, joined the meeting this morning. I think this is not 80 per cent of the members of NRP wanting to join. They called on party members in the province to come, and they did not.”
The turmoil began brewing last week when Rany and his deputy secretaries-general wrote a letter to King Father Norodom Sihanouk asking him to persuade Ranariddh to “take a break from politics”, or in other words, to resign.
The move was intended to free up the parties to negotiate without the clashes between Ranariddh and Funcinpec head Bun Chhay that have upended previous mergers.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that Rany’s complaint can be successful if he has strong evidence, but that if Ranariddh claims he recognises the letter, the complaint is meaningless.
As for the additional complaint to suspend the party’s activities, Sam Oeun said nothing can be done on that front unless NRP leadership has broken the law.