As a minority coalition partner with the ruling CPP, the royalist Funcinpec party has enjoyed a tenuous grip on power in the years following the 2003 national election.
But the party has recently been the subject of unusually biting remarks from Prime Minister Hun Sen since he expressed support for a new formula for installing a government that could leave the CPP in power and make coalition governments unnecessary by 2008.
Funcinpec officials say their party is still strong and their coalition with the CPP is unshakable, but observers forecast difficult times ahead for the party, should it be cast in the role of opposition.
They said Funcinpec must distinguish itself and clarify its political mission if it is to survive.
“For the past couple of weeks, the prime minister has shown his compassion fatigue toward Funcinpec. He feels that the alliance cost him too much: He paid a very high price for that coalition,” Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath said.
Hun Sen appears to have alluded to Funcinpec officials in recent statements promising to root out corrupt and incompetent officials who have let their mistresses broker government appointments. Observers have also said that having to share power with Funcinpec has irritated officials inside the CPP.
Though Hun Sen and Funcinpec officials have denied it, Chea Vannath and others said it appears likely that the coalition is coming to an end, leaving Funcinpec’s political identity uncertain.
“Since 2003, people see Funcinpec as co-opted by the CPP. If they are co-opted by CPP, then people can just vote for CPP,” Chea Vannath said.
“They need to identify who they are, what they are doing, how they are doing it, to prove to the others that they change themselves for the better. For the last two or three mandates, people see that they change for the worse,” she said.
Several royalist officials said their coalition with the CPP remains necessary.
“The coalition of the two parties is important for the stability of the country,” said Funcinpec lawmaker Ly Thuch. “I don’t think our leaders want this coalition to collapse. This coalition was built with strong principles and goals…and these principles should be maintained for Cambodia’s future.”
The coalition, in theory, works off of a 73-point platform that CPP and Funcinpec agreed on in 2004, ending a nearly year-long political deadlock that followed the July 2003 election.
The agreement includes such measures as creating an Immigration Ministry—which the prime minister blocked last year—and promulgating an anti-corruption law, which has not been passed.
In fact, only 20 percent of actions outlined in the platform have been implemented, according to Committee for Free and Fair Elections Director Koul Panha.
Koul Panha said Funcinpec’s approach of engaging the government—rather than serving as a check against it—has proved ineffective.
“They have political will on paper, in promises and policy, but they lack will in action,” Koul Panha said. “They have no will to implement the key priorities of reform,”
But Ly Thuch maintained that the 73-point platform is only a “roadmap,” and that more time is needed to achieve it.
Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San maintained that his party is actively working on resolving land issues and pushing forward the anti-corruption bill.
Observers said clear and tangible policies are what Funcinpec need most to draw supporters.
Asked to articulate Funcinpec’s core policies for the next mid-term, party spokesman Chea Chanboribo referred questions to lawmaker and party Deputy Secretary-General Chhim Seak Leng, who was too busy to comment. Funcinpec President Prince Ranariddh’s Cabinet Chief Noranarith Anandayath referred questions to co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who did not return calls on Monday.
Many said that speaking out on policy issues could be crucial in coming years.
“If they learn from the Sam Rainsy Party’s experience,” Koul Panha said, “then maybe they will survive.”
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said that would involve a drastic turnaround.
“The Funcinpec honeymoon is over,” Son Chhay said. “Funcinpec has enjoyed a kind of privilege of being a royalist party, because of [Norodom Sihanouk’s] popularity in the 1960s, and now it has come to an end. They need to show that they are not corrupt and they have a real will to help the people.”
But Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan pledged that any political divide would not leave the party in complete isolation.
“If CPP and Sam Rainsy Party are going to work together, we will work together too,” Monh Saphan said. “We will not be outside.”