Nhek Bun Chhay, who commanded the country’s military under the Funcinpec-led government in the 1990s and has remained a prominent figure in the royalist party, on Wednesday announced that he had launched a new political party due to his dissatisfaction with Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Mr. Bun Chhay, who helped engineer Prince Ranariddh’s ouster from Funcinpec in 2006—which lasted until last year, when the prince returned as president of the party—called television reporters to a press conference at his home in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district in the morning.
“I changed because I see that the current Funcinpec party has abandoned its original logo,” Mr. Bun Chhay said, unveiling the logo for his own Khmer National United Party, which is almost identical to the old Funcinpec logo.
“Secondly, the internal issues of Funcinpec cannot be resolved,” he said. “Thirdly, I was not satisfied because the leadership of Funcinpec was dictatorial.”
Since returning to lead Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh has changed logos and offices, and overseen a reshuffle in the party’s administration. Mr. Bun Chhay’s position was changed from secretary-general to second vice president.
The former general, whose political career began shortly after troops loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen defeated his army during factional fighting in 1997, explained that he had simply been unable to tolerate Prince Ranariddh.
“I was not satisfied with the current leadership, partly because he leads based on his personal views…and secondly, because I saw things were becoming corrupt,” Mr. Bun Chhay said, adding that he was optimistic about his own political future.
“We believe it’s not too late because everything already exists and we are not starting with only a few people,” he said, explaining that the loyalty he built within Funcinpec would allow his new party to have some success in the 2017 commune elections.
“I am like a shop owner, so I have to study the mind of the buyers—what do the buyers want? So I have to produce based on my buyers’ needs. This is my policy,” he said.
“Politics is about flexibility.”
Mr. Bun Chhay’s party is the first new entrant into the political arena this year and follows the launch of eight parties in 2015.
Funcinpec’s secretary-general, Say Hak, denied that there was corruption in Funcinpec and demurred when asked about a split in the royalist party.
“The Funcinpec party has not split, and please don’t take the achievements of Funcinpec to use for your personal interest,” Mr. Hak said in an apparent message to Mr. Bun Chhay, adding that the former general was not a threat.
“We are not concerned because the decision is the villagers,’” he said, referring to voters.
However, Da Chhean, a Funcinpec commune chief in Banteay Meanchey—Mr. Bun Chhay’s home province—said he was ready to jump ship and join the Khmer National United Party.
“I think the royalists may break up because some people will join with him [Mr. Bun Chhay]—those who have followed with him for a long time—and now Samdech Krom Preah [Prince Ranariddh] is not popular because he lies.”