Reeling from a poor showing in the Feb 3 commune council elections, Funcinpec activists have demanded a shake-up in the party’s leadership and have asked party leaders to reach out more to voters ahead of the 2003 national elections, party insiders said.
Just five years ago, Funcinpec won 31 percent of the vote in the national parliamentary elections. But the commune elections saw the royalist party crushed by the CPP. In many communes, Funcinpec drew a distant third behind the Sam Rainsy Party.
Official election results are due this week from the National Election Committee.
Last week, more than 1,000 former Funcinpec partisan fighters from throughout Cambodia sent a petition to Funcinpec Secretary-General Norodom Sirivudh asking the party to remove You Hockry, among other Funcinpec officials, from his job as co-Minister of Interior.
Prince Sirivudh and You Hockry were unavailable for comment Sunday.
Many Funcinpec activists resent the fact that many government positions allotted to Funcinpec were given to party members who spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in the US, Australia or France, where they were safe from Cambodia’s battlefields, one party loyalist said.
“Right now, most Funcinpec high officials in government are from overseas and were never in the resistance,” the loyalist said.
Funcinpec forces last took up arms in 1997 when CPP and the royalist forces battled in Phnom Penh and the countryside. Many Funcinpec loyalists say their party has been too accommodating to the CPP since the two parties formed a government coalition following the 1998 national elections.
At the Funcinpec congress last year, for example, Prime Minister Hun Sen was a featured guest, and he and Prince Ranariddh embraced publicly. Seeing their leader hugging an old enemy was more than loyalists could handle, angry officials said.
The loyalists’ rumblings are worth listening to, according to Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who once served as Funcinpec’s military commander.
“I support them. Their demands are suitable, because they have been serving and following Funcinpec for a long time,” he said.
One official said the party had no good excuse for faring so badly in the commune elections. “It is very clear that hundreds of thousands of disappointed Funcinpec members in the whole country did not vote for Funcinpec,” the official said.
Another official attributed the election humiliation on laziness in the leadership.
“They just took King Norodom Sihanouk’s reputation and used it for propaganda,” the official said. “It was not enough….If they do nothing and organize incorrectly like they’ve done in the past, they will lose support of the grassroots members again.”
Funcinpec Member of Parliament Keo Remy said the party should build a memorial to those who died in the factional fighting.
“This would show that the party is grateful to those who struggled and fought for the party,” Keo Remy said.
Funcinpec must also be more outspoken against the CPP, Keo Remy said. Too often in the past, Funcinpec leaders refused to condemn election violence, even as many of their commune election candidates and activists were killed, he said.
“We have to speak out whenever we see something wrong,” Keo Remy said.
To help get the party back into action, Funcinpec needs to reshuffle its steering committee and consider expanding it, so that young and energetic members can take the party in more activist directions, Keo Remy added. Keo Remy, 37, said he is the youngest member of the steering committee.
But it may already be too late for Funcinpec to win back its core supporters, one general said. After years of struggling for the party, many loyalists seem to feel betrayed, the general said.
“They have served and followed Funcinpec for many years,” the general said, “but all they’ve received for it is no work, no land and lost husbands, children and parents.”