Ex-Military Commander Leaves Prince, Launches New Party

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.

Nhek Bun Chhay announces the launch of his new party during a press conference at his home in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Vong Sopheap)
Nhek Bun Chhay announces the launch of his new party during a press conference at his home in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Vong Sopheap)

“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.”

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