The last nine months may have belonged to the CPP and its allies, but Monday was virtually all Funcinpec as thousands of party loyalists cheered the return of their leader outside Pochentong Airport.
About 5,000 party members, many identifiable by name tags and registration numbers, stood in line along Pochentong Boulevard to wave and chant the party name as deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s motorcade zipped by.
As the prince’s plane was in the air, an anti-Ranariddh demonstration of about 2,000 people marched through Phnom Penh with signs criticizing the prince for being allied with the Khmer Rouge. “Are the Khmer Rouge going to return with the prince?” asked one placard.
Anti-Ranariddh protesters at the airport, however, were few, apathetic and largely uninformed.
Luk Van, a 30-year-old unemployed man held a sign reading in Khmer: “Who sold the Funcinpec headquarters and kept the money for himself?” But he confessed he didn’t know the answer.
He said he had come “just for the fun,” and had no strong feelings for or against the prince.
A group of people holding anti-Ranariddh placards before the prince arrived sat beneath a billboard using the cardboard as protection against the harsh sun.
Lim Sareth, a 51-year-old farmer from Kien Svay district, Kandal province, said she had no idea what her English-language anti-Ranariddh poster said. She said her village chief ordered her to come by “to welcome the prince,” and she was only promised some rice for lunch. By noon, her lunch had not come.
She also had nothing against the prince. “I just want peace for the young people,” she said.
One pile of anti-Ranariddh posters lay abandoned by the curbside by noon. A truckload of protesters, some carrying anti-prince signs, were later seen waving and cheering at the prince’s motorcade as it drove by.
All the Funcinpec faithful interviewed—many of them brought there by at least two dozen buses—said they were present to greet the prince. None of them said they were promised money.
“I’m here to welcome the prince so we can all have peace forever,” said Mon Hay, a Kandal province farmer and party member.
The prince was whisked to the Hotel Le Royal with pockets of people cheering and waving along the way. Police were stationed at every corner along the nearly 10-km stretch of road.
At the hotel, about 1,000 other supporters stood outside the irons gates cheering until Prince Ranariddh came out on a balcony for a curtain call at 1 pm.
(Additional reporting by AFP)