Funcinpec Loses Influence, Political Battles

In a moment of political reflection that was perhaps too little, too late, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh vowed after his party’s dismal commune election performance that Cambodia’s royalists would no longer play the ruling CPP’s stooge.

And some would say they haven’t.

Instead, Funcinpec members have been their own worst enemies, sinking the party with everything from post-election finger-pointing to outright political brawls fueled by long-standing gripes.

This has all served to allow the CPP to distance itself from a political partnership it never wanted in the first place, and put Funcinpec increasingly on the margins of government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government appears to be more willing to shed the illusion that it is a CPP-Fun­cinpec coalition, some say, evidenced most recently by the CPP-dominated National Assembly’s failure to approve former royalist resistance commander Khan Savoeun’s nomination for co-interior minister.

Lawmakers killed the bid, many by simply refusing to vote. Assem­bly First Vice President Heng Samrin had said the CPP would take a neutral stance on the issue.

The move deprived the RCAF deputy commander-in-chief of the backup he needed to oust co-Mi­nister of Interior You Hockry and win a brewing power struggle inside his own party.

Funcinpec again lost ground, politically and spiritually. The prince, who before the vote had guaranteed Khan Savoeun the CPP’s support, was shamed and facing hostile royalists.

The CPP went on with business as usual—business that many say is setting the party up for a 2003 bid to eliminate the coalition government through the parliamentary elections.

“It’s too late for Funcinpec to do anything to restore the coalition,” said democracy activist Lao Mong Hay.

“The CPP is making efforts to win a two-thirds majority [in next year’s parliamentary elections] so it can form a government of its own.”

This is possible, Lao Mong Hay said, given the CPP’s superior organization and a growing disinterest in what the royalists have to contribute to Cambodia.

“Funcinpec was defeated in the commune elections. Externally, the [Consultative Group] meeting further legitimized the CPP and the Asean partners don’t seem to care much about Funcinpec,” he said. “The Western countries are looking to the CPP in terms of stability.”

One Asian diplomat points out that a single party government would allow the CPP to “bargain from a position of power rather than a position of dispute,” as it is sometimes—though not often—forced to do with its coalition partner.

The CPP probably could muster the parliamentary seats it needs to do away with the coalition, a Western diplomat said, adding that, “there is something to be said about not having your arch-rival in your tent.”

But he said a weaker coalition partner might be just as valuable “for outside consumption”—giving the rest of the world a display, however contrived, of openness.

And, according to the diplomat, donors are worried that with the increasing willingness to recognize the CPP as a singular power driving Cambodia, the ruling party “may grow complacent rather than take advantage of its predominant position to introduce more openness to the political system.”

“This is an ideal juncture for the CPP to lighten up, or they may squander this opportunity,” the diplomat said.

An iron grip is understandable when a party doesn’t have much to hold on to, but the CPP “is sitting prettier than at any point since 1993,” the diplomat said.

“But I’m afraid ‘magnanimity’ is not part of the CPP’s lexicon.”


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