The Cabinet chief to Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday denied the prince intends to merge his party with the CPP, contrary to Prince Ranariddh’s statements last week, and blamed the media for misquoting the royalist leader.
“We do not want to merge the party with the CPP. Prince Ranariddh’s statement just wanted to make the relationship between the two parties closer,” Cabinet Chief Noranarith Anandayath said. “The media confused the meaning of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.”
On Thursday, the prince told reporters he had spoken to Prime Minister Hun Sen about uniting their two parties ahead of the 2008 national election, saying a merger “is the vital key to offer long-term political stability to the country.”
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith had also welcomed the proposal of a merger Thursday, and confirmed that the prince and Hun Sen discussed joining together.
But on Monday, Noranarith Anandayath said Prince Ranariddh had merely been responding to a reporter’s question and his response was taken out of context.
However, Funcinpec’s Deputy Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay gave a different account on Sunday.
While the prince’s statements were only meant to “test” the opinion of his members and CPP members, he said, the proposal of forming a new party with the CPP is genuine.
“We have had the idea to have the two parties merge for almost one year,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
CPP officials, including Khieu Kanharith, rejected the idea Monday.
“We cannot merge the two parties. We can only make a long-term partnership,” Khieu Kanharith said.
CPP’s Honorary President Heng Samrin on Monday called the idea “laughable.” The proposal for a merger is not scheduled for discussion at the CPP’s upcoming plenary congress, which will be held on a yet-to-be determined date, Heng Samrin said.
He added: “The decision cannot be made by an individual, but by the whole party….It’s laughable that [Prince Ranariddh] proposed. With whom did he reach a deal?”
Observers on Monday gave differing analyses of why Prince Ranariddh would raise the idea of a merger. Prince Ranariddh may want to join the CPP for fear of becoming a minor player in the next election, one Asian diplomat said.
“Not many people think there’s much hope for a Funcinpec revival,” he said.
Hun Sen, on the other hand, appears to have “marginalized” CPP members loyal to Deputy Prime Minister and co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the diplomat added. The merger idea may have been floated by Hun Sen to “keep the other side on their toes,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Prince Ranariddh’s comments may be seen as a message to the opposition party that Funcinpec’s relations with the CPP remains strong.
“The Funcinpec side is very concerned about the role of the Sam Rainsy Party side,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath, Lor Chandara and Wency Leung)