FORMER premier Nordom Ranariddh has announced that he will not play “political games” with Prime Minister Hun Sen upon returning to politics, instead expressing interest in a coalition government with the premier’s Cambodian People’s Party.
Speaking to more than 500 supporters on Saturday at the Phnom Penh headquarters of the Nationalist Party, which has changed its name back to the Norodom Ranariddh Party, the prince said he had no intention of provoking conflict with Hun Sen as he steps back onto the political field.
“I will not play – [Hun Sen] has given me a red card already. He gave me a red card for 18 months,” Ranariddh said, referring to the 18 month prison term he received in 2007 for fraud. Ranariddh went into self-exile in Malaysia following the conviction before returning in 2008 following a pardon from his half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni.
Hun Sen last week warned that Ranariddh’s return to the political scene could drag the monarchy into politics, and said members of the royalist Funcinpec party holding government positions in the CPP-dominated coalition would lose their posts if they defect to Ranariddh. Ranariddh was ousted from the Funcinpec leadership in 2006 following embezzlement allegations, going on to form his eponymous party, though members of Funcinpec and the NRP have recently expressed interest in merging.
Ranariddh said on Saturday that he hoped to attract members of Funcinpec and the NRP to contest the upcoming national elections in 2012 and 2013 as the “Funcinpec 81” party, a reference to the founding of Funcinpec in 1981 by his father, Norodom Sihanouk.
In a hand-written letter dated Friday and posted on his website, the King Father wrote that he would continue to support Hun Sen “100 percent”, despite Ranariddh’s return to politics.
“For several years already, I said and wrote (many times) that H.E. Samdech Decho Hun Sen, in the very high quality as leader of the [Royal Government of Cambodia], was supported, 100 percent by me and [it will remain] thus until the end of my life,” the 88-year-old Sihanouk wrote.
While Ranariddh said earlier this month that Funcinpec was “just a party serving” the CPP, he expressed interest on Saturday in forming his own coalition with the ruling party.
“The King Father has supported Samdech Hun Sen as Prime Minister, 100 percent. We, Funcinpec 81, who are followers of Sihanouk, ask to work together, too,” Ranariddh said.
Ranariddh was elected prime minister in United Nations-backed elections in 1993 before being ousted from his position during the 1997 factional fighting by his coalition partner, then- “second prime minister” Hun Sen.
Deputy Prime Minister Nhek Bun Chhay, the secretary general of Funcinpec, said the formation of Ranariddh’s Funcinpec 81 would “create difficulty”, given that Hun Sen has pledged to continue the coalition partnership with Funcinpec in its current iteration.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the premier prefers the current Funcinpec leadership to Ranariddh, adding that a CPP-Funcinpec 81 coalition was “probably impossible”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG