The Kingdom’s two royalist parties will hold a joint congress early next year, marking a key milestone in the planned reunification of the groups ahead of commune elections in 2012.
Funcinpec President Keo Puth Reaksmey said his party and the Nationalist Party, formerly the Norodom Ranariddh Party, will hold the congress in February or March in a bid to cement their merger.
He said the new party, which will go under the Funcinpec banner, would also make an effort to attract past members of the royalist movement, many of whom have defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and other opposition groups since Funcinpec split in acrimony in 2006.
It is still uncertain whether Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Funcinpec’s former president, will return from retirement to lead the party. The veteran politician retired from politics in October 2008.
“Everything is up to Samdech Krompreah’s decision as to whether or not [he] will re-enter politics,” Keo Puth Reaksmey said.
“We are going ahead. If the prince is with us, we will get along better, but we will still go ahead without the prince.”
Nationalist Party spokesman Pen Sangha said both parties’ leaders planned to formally invite Prince Ranariddh to head the new-look Funcinpec.
“So far we have not written an official letter to invite the prince. We should be optimistic and must have a step-by-step strategy in place,” Pen Sangha said.
Since romping to victory in United Nations-backed elections in 1993, the royalist movement has experienced a steady decline at the polls.
In 2006, Prince Ranariddh was removed as Funcinpec party president in connection with accusations he embezzled funds from the sale of party property. The self-named breakaway party he formed, renamed the Nationalist Party earlier this year, has fared no better. The two parties won just four seats between them in the 2008 elections.
But Prince Ranariddh’s spokesman Chea Chanboribo dismissed speculation the veteran politician, currently an adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni, is planning a political comeback.
He also criticised Funcinpec officials for driving the Prince out in 2006, and now expecting favours from him as they seek to resurrect the party’s political fortunes.
“Funcinpec’s [officials] have criticised the prince for leading the party down and down until they fired the prince as party president. Now when they are stuck, they call for the prince, but everything is too late,” Chea Chanboribo said.
“It is better that the Prince stays neutral and works for humanity and for the nation.”