Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh greets defectors from the Sam Rainsy Party, including the SRP's former cabinet chief Pi Thach, front left in white shirt and glasses. In a two-hour speech at Funcinpec headquarters on August 24 Ranariddh said his compromise with Hun Sen prevented blood on the streets last month.
PPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy has questioned Prince Norodom Ranariddh's motives for
brokering a deal with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to amend the constitution
last month, after Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec, claimed his intervention saved
Cambodia from bloody streetfights.
A power struggle between factions within the CPP on July 12 could have resulted in
fighting worse than the coup seven years ago, in which at least 100 people were killed,
"The situation on the night of July 12 was tense... Samdech Hun Sen and I had
to solve a problem and if we made a wrong decision, the Khmer nation would have become
bloody with [violence] more serious than the factional fighting on July 5 [and] 6,
1997," he said.
But Rainsy and other political observers have played down Ranariddh's role in resolving
the CPP rift, which saw party president Chea Sim, who heads a rival faction to Prime
Minister Hun Sen's allies, escorted out of the country.
"I think Prince Ranariddh was exaggerating. He wanted to paint a possible catastrophe
in order to justify his change of position," said Rainsy.
"The real reason is money... not less than $50 million [given to Ranariddh]
from the CPP through pro-CPP businessmen," said Rainsy.
He predicted the rift within the CPP will deepen and new alliances will be formed
as a result, saying a "new deal in Cambodian politics" was possible.
A month after a coalition government was formed between the CPP and Funcinpec, the
bitter factional split between Chea Sim and Hun Sen continues to be a talking point
at all levels of politics, with one notable exception: the CPP.
The powerful ruling party has closed ranks, sticking to their story that Chea Sim
left the country for medical treatment.
However, when the Post asked Nhek Bun Chhay, the man who eventually signed the constitutional
amendment, if a factional fallout with Hun Sen and his allies was the cause of Chea
Sim's departure, he smiled and nodded.
"The tension was created between Hun Sen, the vice-chairman of the CPP and Chea
Sim, the chairman of the CPP over the disputed addition [to the] constitution,"
said Nhek Bun Chhay, second deputy president of the Senate, on August 24.
The constitution had to be amended to allow for the show-of-hands "package vote"
that saw Hun Sen re-elected as prime minister at the same time as the president of
the National Assembly.
With the King out of the country, acting head of state Chea Sim is said to have refused
to sign and was flown out of Cambodia to Bangkok. Funcinpec's Nhek Bun Chhay stepped
into his shoes to sign the constitutional change.
It is understood that Hun Sen telephoned Ranariddh at about 11pm on July 12 and that
Bun Chhay visited Ranariddh's home some time before signing at 10:30 the next morning.
It has emerged that Chea Sim wanted his faction to keep control of three key portfolios
- agriculture, commerce and water. He was also pushing Hun Sen into bolstering the
stocks of CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum at the expense of Sok An, Minister for
The move would have relieved Sok An either of his entire portfolio or some of the
briefs under his stewardship, with control going to Say Chhum. This includes the
potentially sensitive handling of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
"Chea Sim is fed up with Sok An having everything," one diplomat told the
Post. "There was a split, but the push failed because nobody had the guts to
support Chea Sim."
An incensed Hun Sen was among those who confronted Chea Sim amid a show of force
in the early hours of July 13, shortly before Chea Sim was whisked to the airport.
Sar Kheng and Ke Kim Yan - both allies of Chea Sim - were also prevented from leaving
their homes as National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy led Chea Sim's escort to Pochentong
The Communist Party in Vietnam tried unsuccessfully to use its influence to pressure
Hun Sen into forging a deal with Chea Sim in an attempt to resolve the rift, said
a diplomat, but Hun Sen balked and "he is now more in charge than ever before".
"Basically he was told that a split in the CPP could spell an end to the party.
It's something the Vietnamese have said before, and at the moment there is this pretense
that everything is fine," one Western diplomat said.
"It's like a broken glass: they can mend it but it won't be like before,"
said another diplomat, who said the rift between Chea Sim and Hun Sen has existed
for ten years.