Ranariddh’s Support Steadily Fell Prior to Ousting

He could rally tens of thousands during his heyday as Cambodia’s first democratically elected prime minister. But by the time he was ignominiously removed from Funcinpec’s presidency by the leadership of his own party on Oct 18, Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s star had already long since faded.

“[Prince Ranariddh’s] first setback was when he lost the street fighting,” Hath Teang Borith, a fifth-year civil engineering student at Phnom Penh’s Norton University, said this week.

“His supporters died,” said Hath Teang Borith, referring to the routing of Prince Ranariddh’s royalist troops in July 1997 by CPP forces loyal to then-second prime minister Hun Sen.

“His political life after the fighting was saved by [Retired King Norodom] Sihanouk,” who negotiated with Hun Sen to allow the Prince to return to Cambodia from exile shortly before the 1998 national elections, Hath Teang Borith said.

Despite his return, Funcinpec and the prince were never the same after the CPP’s military victory in a bloody weekend battle in the streets of Phnom Penh.

Hath Teang Borith said that more recently, Prince Ranariddh undermined himself by paying more attention to his personal life than to Funcinpec.

“I think Ranariddh is out politically,” he added.

Many interviewed this week in Phnom Penh said that the prince’s political career is in the final stages of a decline that began with the 1997 factional fighting. But the decline, they said, was hastened by political missteps and personal indiscretions that discredited the prince and made supporters question his dedication to the people and his party.

Others accused the prince of “flip-flopping”—aligning his party with either the ruling CPP or the SRP at different points in his career, leaving supporters wondering what Funcinpec actually stood for.

“Funcinpec doesn’t have a firm stance and Funcinpec officials don’t trust in their own leader,” said Ouk Phirun, 23, a business administration student at Pannasastra University of Cam­bodia.

“Funcinpec joined with Sam Rainsy during the [1998 Demo­cratic Alliance]…but then someone convinced [Prince Rana­riddh] to align with the CPP,” he said.

Ouk Phirun added that Prince Ranariddh’s reactions to political problems were immature.

“When he had problems, he left the country and wouldn’t come back unless…there was someone to coddle him,” he said.

Prince Ranariddh’s idea to form a new party is “reactionary,” Ouk Phirun added, predicting that the new political entity would enjoy little support from voters.

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that Funcinpec was weakened by its alliance with the CPP.

When Funcinpec decided to join the CPP-led coalition government after setting up the Democratic Alliance with the SRP in 1998, “it was unclear why,” he said.

Because of the secrecy around the shift in allegiance, “people decided it wasn’t issue-based, but about personal interest.”

Though a three-time coalition partner to Funcinpec, the CPP has been able to use the royalist party’s instability against them, Koul Panha added.

“The CPP contributed to divisions within Funcinpec,” he added.

Tuk-tuk driver Sar Saroeun said that Prince Ranariddh’s resignation from the presidency of the National Assembly in March, in addition to his long-term affair with well-known classical dancer Ouk Phalla, have left supporters questioning his character.

“If Ranariddh would act like Sam Rainsy does, he would have more popularity than Sam Rainsy, given that he is the son of [retired king Norodom Sihanouk],” Sar Saroeun said.

The prince took over his father’s position as head of Funcinpec in 1992, when then-Prince Sihanouk, who had founded the party in the early 1980s, resigned.

Residents of the capital said that the prince’s royal legacy has buoyed his esteem among the people, even when he has failed politically.

Sok Satya, a security guard in Hun Sen Park, said that Prince Ranariddh has lost support as a politician but is still respected as a prince.

Without Prince Ranariddh, Sok Satya said, Funcinpec will have “but a spit of supporters.”

“Ranariddh is still popular because he is the [Retired] King’s son,” said 58-year-old Chap Mai, who works in a restaurant on Monivong Boulevard.

“The only problem is he didn’t go to the countryside a lot. If he did, more people would support him,” she said.

Prince Ranariddh’s disconnect from supporters on the ground mirrors a neglect of needs within his own party, said Chea Vannath, former director of the Center for Social Development.

“It seems like there was no smooth communication within the party itself,” she said.

“There were a lot of hidden agendas…but people didn’t want to say things face to face.”

Chea Vannath added that a fear of challenging the prince—because of his status and what she called a “Cambodian culture of face-saving and compromise”—led to poor communication and divisions within Funcinpec.

“[Prince Ranariddh] never proved himself to be a politician. He became a political leader by circumstance and history. He was not a self-made man,” she added.

The history, culture and tradition of Cambodia’s royalty are still popular with the people. But politically speaking, Funcinpec is fragmented and still at the mercy of its supremely more powerful and politically astute sponsor: the CPP.

Even in it latest manifestation under new Funcinpec President Keo Puth Reasmey, said Chea Vannath: “Funcinpec will still float around until the CPP no longer need them.”


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