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The rise and demise of Funcinpec

The rise and demise of Funcinpec

When Funcinpec won the most parliamentary seats in the UNTAC-sponsored election in May 1993, Hun Sen's CPP cried foul. Political bargaining by Norodom Sihanouk and foreign and UN diplomats resulted in the creation of a coalition government with two prime ministers: Funcinpec's Ranariddh became First Prime Minister and Hun Sen Second Prime Minister. But the marriage was not a happy one, and relations between the two parties deteriorated over the next four years until the coaltion's bloody dissolution in July 1997.

Sam Rainsy founds the Khmer Nation Party in 1995 after Ranariddh sacked him as Funcinpec Finance Minister in October 1994 for complaining publicly and regularly about corruption.

The party's full name is a mouthful in any language. If you ask somebody about the

National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, Economic, and Cooperative

Cambodia, you might get a blank look in response.

Fortunately, the Royalist party founded by King Father Norodom Sihanouk in Paris

on March 26,1981 has an acronym in French that has a bit of a ring to it and so "Funcinpec"

(Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Independent, Neutre, Pacifique, Economique et

Cooperatif) is a name well-known across Cambodia.

Sihanouk started the party as a way of both rallying his Royalist followers and distancing

himself from the Khmer Rouge (KR) who had held him under house arrest in Phnom Penh

during the KR's years in power, until they were ousted by the Vietnamese invasion

in December 1978.

In 1982 Funcinpec joined with two other factions (the Khmer Rouge and Son Sann's

Khmer People's National Liberation Front [KPNLF]) to form the Coalition Government

for Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) which, with the backing of the United States, Britain,

France, China and Asean (and to the consternation of the Soviet Bloc, Vietnam and

India), was given Cambodia's seat at the United Nations.

Initially, all three factions had loyalist base camps inside Cambodia near the Thai

border from which they organized guerrilla resistance to the new Heng Samrin-led

People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) regime in Phnom Penh. During the 1984/85 dry

season the Vietnamese and PRK forces pushed all the factions across the border into

Thailand where they set up new camps.

Funcinpec's major base, known as Site B, was located in Surin Province and held about

60,000 refugees, many of whom were family members of the 10,000 strong Funcinpec

military arm known as ANKI (Armee National pour un Kampuchea Independent).

At the time, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk's sons, was ANKI's commander-in-chief

and Nhiek Bun Chhay its top field commander. Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Sihanouk's

half-brother, was involved in the faction's civilian political affairs, while Prince

Norodom Chakrapong was ANKI's chief of staff.

Funcinpec was one of the four signatories to the October 23, 1991 Paris Peace Accords

and with Sihanouk's return to Phnom Penh on November 14, 1991, other senior party

members nervously followed.

With the advent of political party registration during the UNTAC period in 1992,

Sihanouk resigned as Funcinpec party president saying he wished to remain neutral

in his position as president of the Supreme National Council. He was replaced by

Ranariddh who has held the post since then.

Interestingly, in 1992 Chakrapong jumped ship, joining the Cambodian People's Party's

State of Cambodia as a deputy minister where he was involved in negotiating business

deals with both Thai and Malaysian companies who were eager to set up shop in Phnom


In July 1997 forces loyal to Hun Sen ousted Funcinpec units from Phnom Penh in two days of urban warfare. Funcinpec forces, led by Nhiek Bun Chhay, above, fled to a remote outpost at O'Smach on the Thai border. Dozens of Funcinpec's senior military commanders were hunted down and executed during the remainder of 1997, a process that gutted the party's military strength. But Bun Chhay survived.

Singing the blues in Singapore.

The lead-up to UNTAC-sponsored, nationwide elections in May 1993 was a particularly

bloody period. From mid-November 1992 to January 31, 1993, human rights workers documented

attacks against Funcinpec and Buddhist Liberal Democratic party workers (the BLDP

was the successor to the KPNLF) that left 50 dead and 30 injured. According to UN

reports, in the ten weeks prior to the May polls there were 200 deaths, 338 injuries

and 114 abductions that investigators determined were "politically motivated".

In spite of political intimidation, and as a complete surprise to almost all observers,

Funcinpec won a plurality of the votes at the elections, with the CPP coming in second.

It was their most successful experience at the polls before or since, with the party

winning 58 seats in Parliament.

The CPP cried foul, and Chakrapong declared that Cambodia's seven eastern provinces

were banding together to form the "Samdech Euv Autonomous Zone" in protest

at the election results. (Chakrapong would spice up the political platter again in

July 1994 when he was arrested for allegedly plotting a coup. He was exiled but the

experience left many CPP stalwarts embittered towards the prince who later rejoined


The secessionist move, however, was short-lived as backroom political bargaining

by Sihanouk and foreign and UN diplomats resulted in the creation of a coalition

government with two prime ministers. Funcinpec's Ranariddh would be First Prime Minister

and Hun Sen Second PM. The rest of the cabinet positions were divided between both


The marriage was not a happy one. In spite of public declarations in support of national

reconciliation, Funcinpec officials complained that the CPP-controlled civil service

were instructed not to not cooperate with Funcinpec-led ministries. With only a handful

of qualified party members, most returning from years overseas, the party was unable

to have a serious impact on the bureaucracy.

Even more problematic, was a lack of Funcinpec internal party discipline. As the

Cambodian economy opened up to foreign investment, both parties jumped on the corruption

bandwagon. Ranariddh was known to have complained bitterly that his own party officials

were making hundreds of thousands of dollars from signature fees and investment permits,

but, unlike the more disciplined CPP, funds were not being channeled into party coffers.

In short, the party was poorly manned, lacking in disciplined leadership and under

continuous assault from the stronger CPP.

Sam Rainsy, the Funcinpec Minister of Finance, complained publicly and regularly

about corruption, such that his own party boss Ranariddh fired him in October, 1994.

As an expression of solidarity with Rainsy, then foreign minister Prince Sirivudh

resigned as well in protest.

Sirivudh, for his part, was later arrested in December 1995. Accused of plotting

to kill Hun Sen and possession of an illegal weapons cache, he too was allowed to

go into exile.

Over the next three years, Funcinpec-CPP relations deteriorated to the point where

there was little inter-party communication between officials. By 1997, as relations

worsened with politically aligned military units exchanging fire in the northwest,

the stage was set for the eventual complete breakdown in July when forces loyal to

Hun Sen ousted Funcinpec units from Phnom Penh in two days of urban warfare.

Prince Norodom Chakrapong, right, goes into exile after being arrested for allegedly plotting a coup in July 1994. He had jumped ship from Funcinpec and joined the Cambodian People's Party's State of Cambodia as a Cabinet Minister in 1992.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh flies into exile, left, after being arrested in December 1995, accused of plotting to kill Hun Sen and possession of an illegal weapons cache. He surfaced hours later.

Funcinpec forces, led by Nhiek Bun Chhay fled to the remote border outpost at O'Smach

along the Thai border. However, from July to December 1997 dozens of Funcinpec's

senior military commanders were hunted down and executed, a process that gutted the

party's military strength.

After months of diplomatic activity a deal was brokered that allowed Ranariddh to

return to Cambodia and see Funcinpec compete in national polls in 1998. The party

won only 43 seats and, after a post-election stalemate, another coalition government

was formed, only this time with Hun Sen as sole prime minister.

In the 2003 national elections, Funcinpec faired even worse, winning only 26 seats,

while the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) rose in the polls dramatically, acquiring 24 seats.

Another post-election stalemate saw Funcinpec and the SRP band together to form the

"Alliance of Democrats". Eventually, a deal was cut and Funcinpec dropped

its courtship with the SRP like a hot potato, with a whole new raft of political

appointments for Funcinpec officials as a sweetner and accusations by Rainsy of millions

in payoffs to Ranariddh.

With Sirivudh and Nhiek Bun Chhay now having been fired from their respective positions

in government, it is anybody's guess what actually remains of the CPP/Funcinpec Protocol.

Looming even larger is the future of the Funcinpec party itself. Battered, badly

led, regularly out-maneuvered by the more politically astute Hun Sen, and in internal

disarray, talk of the party's complete dissolution is not uncommon.


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