Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay threw his support Wednesday behind Prime Minister Hun Sen’s proposal for Cambodia’s royals to retire from politics.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said the decision should ultimately be left up to the royals themselves. But by engaging in the country’s political life and faring poorly in national elections, royals risk marring the monarchy’s reputation, he told reporters following a tourism conference at Chaktomuk Theater.
“We want to protect and provide high value to the royal family members,” he explained later by telephone.
“In these current circumstances, royal family members should not be involved in politics,” he added.
Funcinpec was headed by Prince Norodom Ranariddh until he was ousted in October, and the party still has several senior royal members. If a law is passed barring royals from politics, Funcinpec will remove its remaining royals, though it will continue to call itself a royalist party, Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
“I’m a real royalist supporter,” he maintained.
Muth Channtha, Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman, said Nhiek Bun Chhay’s remarks demonstrate that Funcinpec’s royal legacy has been completely uprooted.
“The party has lost its ideology,” he said.
Hun Sen suggested Monday that the royals should initiate their own retirement, adding that if they formally agree to stay out of politics, a law could be drafted to keep them financially supported after they step down.
Funcinpec Deputy President Prince Sisowath Sirirath said that royals should not quit politics, and claimed officials are stoking a high-profile public debate on the topic to try and deflect attention from the faltering Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“We should stop discussing royal family issues because it will delay the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” he said.
“We should boost the Khmer Rouge tribunal to provide justice for the people.”
He also said it would be illogical for Funcinpec to oust its princes and princesses while continuing to call itself a royalist party.
“If royal family party members are prevented from being Funcinpec members, Funcinpec will not be a royalist party,” he said.
Princess Sisowath Santa, a Funcinpec lawmaker, said that she would refuse to accept any pension offered in return for quitting politics.
Royals introducing a law to bar themselves from office would amount to political suicide, she added.
“We cannot introduce any law that would kill us,” she said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that if the ax falls on royals in politics, government officials with palace-bestowed honorary titles such as oknha or samdech should give them up also.
If Funcinpec does purge its remaining royals, supporters attracted to the party’s royal legacy will likely look elsewhere, he added.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said that retired King Norodom Sihanouk bestowed samdech titles, and that they therefore should not be dropped.
“Samdech is a title. They are not like royal family members,” he said.