Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Sam Rainsy returned from a three-week European tour yesterday sounding a much more conciliatory note about Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s return to the royalist Funcinpec party.
Speaking at Phnom Penh International Airport, Rainsy said he welcomed Ranariddh’s recent return to the party he led to victory in 1993, a move reportedly brokered by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec’s head during the 2013 national elections, Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey.
“It is the right of politicians, and we welcome an individual view in politics, and leave the right to the people to make a judgment” on which party they will support, Rainsy said.
The decidedly more diplomatic comments come about a week after the opposition leader accused Ranariddh of trading on the name of his widely beloved father, the late King Norodom Sihanouk, for his own political gain.
“He is the cheapest politician Cambodia has ever known,” Rainsy said at the time.
Ranariddh was ousted from Funcinpec in 2006. In the intervening years he attempted to resuscitate his political career in other parties with mixed results. Meanwhile, Funcinpec, once the only force able to compete with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), has all but slid into irrelevance, failing to win a single seat in parliament in the 2013 national elections.
Rainsy’s more subdued remarks came just one day after 254 purported CNRP activists defected to the CPP in Kandal province.
Doul Koeun, a provincial CPP official who presided over a defection ceremony at party headquarters there, welcomed the defectors, saying CPP “has never considered other Khmers or other party members as its enemy”.
So Maran, one of the defectors and a second deputy chief of Kandal’s Barong commune, told reporters that members were disappointed by party officials’ inability to resolve supporters’ problems and maintained that the group was changing horses “without buying or bribery”.
However, Yem Ponhearith, a spokesman for the CNRP who said he had not yet heard of the defection, was not so sure, venturing a guess that the defectors had “joined the CPP to benefit from corruption”.