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Royalist return envisioned

Prince Norodom Ranariddh
Prince Norodom Ranariddh talks to the media during a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, where he announced he would rejoin the Funcinpec party. Heng Chivoan

Royalist return envisioned

Funcinpec will attempt to bring wayward royalists back into the party while focusing on grassroots campaigns in the provinces, the party’s reanointed president Prince Norodom Ranariddh said yesterday during a press conference at his house in Phnom Penh.

While Ranariddh added a few details about the party’s new direction, his return to politics continued to be met with derision by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party officials, including its leader, Sam Rainsy.

Ranariddh, who announced late last week that he was returning to lead the party – and the people – that ousted him from the top slot in 2006, said he has received 7,400 thumb-printed requests for membership, and that he’s spent half a year building up networks outside of Phnom Penh.

“For six months, I have prepared structures in almost every big province,” the 71-year-old said to a scrum of reporters. “The biggest strategy is to collect royalists, and I already have grassroots [support].”

Under Ranariddh, Funcinpec will receive a new logo, current president Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey will become first deputy president, and secretary-general Nhek Bun Chhay will be second-deputy president.

He also said that he is not content with the “current situation” in Cambodia, citing illegal immigration, forest destruction and poverty, without offering any ideas on how to resolve these long-standing gripes.

In 2006, the one-time prime minister was booted from Funcinpec. Afterwards, he launched the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), which won two seats in the 2008 elections. He pledged to merge it with Funcinpec in 2012 in a scheme that failed. In late 2014, he created a new royalist party before finally jumping back to Funcinpec last week.

The latest Ranariddh flip-flop has inspired a number of interpretations, from an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen to weaken the monarchy, to a last-ditch effort to save Funcinpec as a political force.

“Their reunion is maybe a survival strategy, in order to keep Funcinpec as a name in the political arena. It’s possible that they will get some seats,” said Koul Panha, head of election monitor Comfrel.

Opposition members were far less kind.

Speaking only days after Bun Chhay said Funcinpec could poach members of the CNRP, Prince Sisowath Thomico said Ranariddh’s return was “very puzzling”.

“I don’t see the point . . . If you look at the [voter numbers], you cannot understand,” said Thomico, a CNRP member.

Calling royals in politics “folklore” and Funcinpec a “spent force”, CNRP president Sam Rainsy blasted Ranariddh, accusing him of exploiting the name of his father, the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who founded Funcinpec.

“He is the cheapest politician Cambodia has ever known,” Rainsy said.

When his comments were conveyed to Ranarridh yesterday, the prince said he didn’t want to respond.

“Let the people judge or decide.”

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