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Royalist parties to merge with hopes of future political gains

Royalist parties to merge with hopes of future political gains

090519_02.jpg
090519_02.jpg

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Funcinpec leader Nhek Bun Chhay discusses his party's merger with the Norodom Ranariddh Party. 

THE Kingdom's two royalist parties, Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, are set to reunite, three years after unceremoniously parting ways following the conviction and exile of former Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Nhek Bun Chhay, secretary general of Funcinpec, said Monday that the new party, which will retain the name Funcinpec, would officially be born closer to the 2013 national elections.

But he said a de facto merger had already taken place at the grassroots level, and that local activists had worked in close cooperation for Sunday's provincial, district and municipal council elections.

He added that the impetus for the merger came from a sharp drop in support for the two parties at last year's national election.

"We hope that merging helps our votes increase. At the municipal, provincial and district elections, our votes increased, but if we didn't merge we couldn't have made such gains," he said, estimating  that the two parties had won a combined 91 seats on district and province councils, and 11 seats in the capital.

I THINK THE PEOPLE FULLY UNDERSTAND THE MISTAKES FUNCINPEC AND THE NRP HAVE MADE.

He noted that in the 2008 national election - when the royalist presence in the National Assembly dropped from 26 seats to just four - Funcinpec and the NRP received 29,000 and 21,000 votes in Siem Reap province respectively, but that the two tallies were worthless alone.

"If we put our votes together, we would have gained one seat," Nhek Bun Chhay said.

"If we are split, our votes will also be split."

Royalist rebirth?

Hang Puthea, executive director of Cambodian election monitoring group Nicfec, agreed the merger of both parties had strengthened the flagging royalist movement's showing at Sunday's election, but raised questions about the long-term future of the union.

"If the merger goes ahead and lasts forever, it could help [Funcinpec] fare better in the next mandate, but I'm worried that the parties will split again," he said.

Meanwhile, opposing politicians from other parties said they remained unfazed by the formation of what will become the country's third-largest political party.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday that the royalists had every right to reunite, but that the ruling party was not concerned about what would result. "It will not affect the CPP. We are not scared of this merger because we know their stance and the strength of their forces," he said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, described the parties' past relationship, which hit a low point in 2006 when Prince Ranariddh was expelled from Funcinpec  for embezzling funds from the sale of party property, as "a game", and said a reinvigorated royalist party would pose few problems.

"I am not concerned at all because I think the people fully understand the mistakes Funcinpec and the NRP have made so far," he said.

He added that Funcinpec and the NRP had compromised their credentials by getting close to the ruling party. "They are not familiar with the role of the opposition," he said.

"Who will trust this party now? Again and again they broke their promises and betrayed the people by allying with the ruling party."

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