Former Funcinpec military commander Nhek Bun Chhay presided over the first congress of his brand-new political party on Friday, but spent much of the time discussing his strategies for weakening his erstwhile ally, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, including a plan to commandeer nearly all of Funcipec’s provincial offices.
After a long period of exile from the party he helped lead to victory in the 1993 elections, Prince Ranariddh returned to Funcinpec last year and was re-elected president after a brief but intense power struggle with Mr. Bun Chhay—who engineered the prince’s ouster in 2006.
After mounting several legal and procedural challenges over the prince’s choice of deputies, Mr. Bun Chhay walked away earlier this month to found the Khmer National United Party (KNUP), taking a number of Funcinpec members with him.
At Friday’s KNUP congress in Phnom Penh, Mr. Bun Chhay said his new party was laying claim to 21 of Funcinpec’s 25 provincial offices, because the buildings belonged either to him or to other ex-Funcinpec members who had defect-ed to the KNUP. He urged the audience of about 500 KNUP activists to defend the buildings at all costs.
“Please, all members, control [them] and don’t let anyone violate those headquarters,” he said.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Say Hak vigorously denied that ownership of the offices was in question.
“All the headquarters are the property of the Funcinpec Party,” he said. “Nhek Bun Chhay is confusing public opinion, nationally and internationally.”
Mr. Bun Chhay also said on Friday that he had asked the Interior Ministry to officially nullify the results of the Funcinpec party congress in January last year that reestablished Prince Norodom Ranariddh as head of the party—and claimed that the ministry had already agreed to do so.
However, Am Veasna, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s political affairs and association department, said this was false. He said Mr. Bun Chhay had indeed written to the ministry seeking the invalidation of the party congress, but that no decision had been made on the matter.