Prince Norodom Ranariddh will return from medical treatment in France to once again lead the royalist Funcinpec next month, following years of having been out of politics and leaving the party in the hands of his eldest son, Prince Norodom Chakravuth who has little experience in politics as acting party president.
Meanwhile, former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath plans to register a new “opposition party” with the Ministry of Interior at the end of this month, after losing hope that his former court-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) can be reinstated.
Funcinpec spokesman Phan Sithy said during a press conference on Tuesday that Prince Ranariddh’s health condition has improved after his long-term medical treatment in France.
“His health is much better, he walks on his own, has said a lot,” Sithy said, adding that the prince will return to lead the party directly and possibly join the party congress scheduled for February 27.
Funcinpec has become weaker and weaker as it won 43 seats in the 1998 national election, 26 seats in 2003 and just two in 2008 before being wiped out in the 2013 election by not winning a single seat.
“We strongly hope that Funcinpec will get seats in the next election. Funcinpec is currently seen as silent, but we are restructuring to be ready to participate in the upcoming commune and general elections,” Sithy added.
In August 2018, Prince Ranariddh hand-picked his oldest son to take over the party in his absence for medical treatment in Thailand after a fatal car crash that killed his wife Ouk Phalla in June 2018.
In December last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni, to replace three members of the Supreme Consultative Council (SCC) from Funcinpec. They are Prince Chakravuth and party senior members Pich Sochetha and Ros Saphan.
The King later approved to replace these three positions with other members from the Funcinpec party. The three men are Heng Chantha, Aing Sambo and Yin Voreak.
Chantha who is a new Funcinpec vice president said his party is well prepared to compete in the Commune Election in 2022 and as well as General Election in 2023.
“Funcinpec would like to publicly announce that Prince Ranariddh is in good health after he was ill for a long time after a traffic accident in Sihanoukville,” he added. “Currently, he is preparing the party to participate in the upcoming commune and national elections. He has been reorganising the party from the top to the grassroots.”
He said Prince Ranariddh was discharged from the hospital and was staying at a residence in France awaiting a return to Cambodia.
When asked if Funcinpec has any strategy to restore popularity to regain parliamentary seats, Chantha said the party has already set a new strategy to gain popularity.
He said Funcinpec became weaker due to a split among party leaders in the past, calling it “a disease”.
“We have found the disease, which I always say, we dare to acknowledge that Funcinpec’s disease is fragmentation into small herds. After Funcinpec returned to the polls in 1998, we were divided into nine separate pieces and continued to fall apart due to misunderstandings,” he said.
“For a new strategy, the Prince calls for forgetting the old issues and joining the new Funcinpec to get the people who used to support him back to support him again,” he added.
Funcinpec won the first national election which was organised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1993, winning 58 out of 120 National Assembly seats, while the CPP received 51.
Ranariddh became “First Prime Minister” while Prime Minister Hun Sen was “Second Prime Minister. Prince Ranariddh was ousted from power after fighting between forces loyal to him and Mr Hun Sen in 1997.
Funcinpec seats at the National Assembly have reduced every election and lost all the seats during 2013 and 2018 national election. The party was also criticised after it accepted 41 of 55 National Assembly seats held by the CNRP which were divided out after that party was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017.
Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun told Khmer Times yesterday that Funcinpec is no longer getting enough support from the voters to gain National Assembly seats in the next election.
“Since the previous elections, when Prince Ranariddh was the party president, Funcinpec has not been popular enough or gained the trust of the people to get enough votes to win seats in the National Assembly,” he said.
“After the 2017 event, Funcinpec’s popularity, as well as Prince Ranariddh’s, continued to decline,” he said, referring to Funcinpec’s acceptance of the formerly-held CNRP seats.
“So for me as a social observer, I do not see Prince Ranariddh still influential in gaining enough support to win a seat or get support for the upcoming election. He is old and physically ill, so it is difficult to get Funcinpec back in the way when he was so young that he can show the people the potential or the policies of the party.”
In related news, amid the failure of plans by former senior court-dissolved CNRP figures to return from exile to seek “national reconciliation”, a new opposition party will emerge later this month to compete with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Chanrath told Khmer Times that he will register the party with the Interior Ministry, saying he lost hope the CNRP will be reinstated to compete in the next elections.
“We will register a new party no later than this month,” he said. “We will officially decide on the party name, the names of the founding members and the party logo.”
Chanrath said he did not believe that former opposition leader Sam Rainsy who is living in exile in France can return to the country as he was convicted of various crimes while former CNRP president Kem Sokha is still facing trial on a charge of “treason”.
“I do not think they have a chance to reinstate the CNRP, so waiting for the former opposition leaders to return is not possible until the next elections,” he added.
Analysts have said the initiative of creating a new party was just an effort by Chanrath and his colleagues to find a place to continue their political careers after being granted political rehabilitation.
Currently, more than 10 among 118 former senior CNRP officials have had their court bans on political activity lifted. They include former lawmakers, Son Chhay, Kang Kimhak, Chiv Kata, Tep Sothy, Kong Bora and Real Cemarin, as well as former CNRP senior adviser Kong Korm, who is now honorary president of his youngest son party’s Khmer Will Party.
Cemarin now is the president of Khmer Conservative Party while Kimhak and Kata currently are the founders of the newly created Cambodian National Love Party.