Calling for renewed efforts to boost his party’s popularity, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Sunday blamed defections to the Sam Rainsy Party for the royalists’ poor showing in the 2003 election.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark Funcinpec’s 24th anniversary, Prince Ranariddh urged party members to stick together to avoid the party’s continued slide at the polls.
In the 1998 and 2003 general elections, he said, “Funcinpec lost its votes because…some leadership people had defected from Funcinpec” to the Sam Rainsy Party and to establish their own parties.
“Unification between the leadership level and all members of the party [is necessary] in order that we can get back and strengthen the support of voters,” he said, addressing about 1,000 party members gathered at Funcinpec headquarters in Phnom Penh.
“Collecting all the votes that we lost after the 2003 election for Funcinpec is a must,” he added.
Without outlining any specific strategies on how the party would do so, Prince Ranariddh said he was confident Funcinpec could win the 2007 commune election and the 2008 general election.
Funcinpec won 26 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly during the 2003 national election, plunging from 43 seats in 1998 and 58 seats in 1993.
In contrast, the Sam Rainsy Party won 24 seats in 2003, up from 15 in 1998, while the CPP won 73 seats in 2003, compared with 64 in the previous election.
Prince Ranariddh vowed to continue its partnership with the ruling CPP, and chastised the opposition party for rejecting a proposal to enter a three-party coalition government during the political deadlock last year.
“This Sam Rainsy Party made the wrong decision, losing this valuable chance to join the Royal Government, leaving its members jobless and [the party] is also unable to provide safety and security to its members,” Prince Ranariddh said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and fellow lawmakers Cheam Channy and Chea Poch were stripped of their parliamentary immunity on Feb 3, allowing the courts to pursue several lawsuits against the three.
Both Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch face defamation suits for alleging that Prince Ranariddh took bribes to form a coalition government with the CPP.
Prince Ranariddh vowed to stop talking about Sam Rainsy’s case on Sunday, saying it was an “unlucky” matter for Funcinpec.
“Some people want me to talk about Sam Rainsy’s immunity stripping [but] if I talk about that case, it will be bad luck. It’s his case with the court,” the prince said.
Eng Chhay Eang, the secretary-general for the Sam Rainsy Party, expressed skepticism that Funcinpec would regain its strength at the polls.
“Funcinpec will not be able to get back its popularity. It will decrease,” Eng Chhay Eang said Sunday.
He also defended the opposition’s decision to stay out of a coalition with the CPP and Funcinpec.
“Funcinpec cares only about positions and more positions,” he charged.