Funcinpec officials predicted Monday that the party will score big in commune elections next year once the government’s new mixed committee system works effectively to ensure the elections are conducted fairly and free of intimidation.
“I think there are no other contenders [to the CPP] in the commune elections but Funcinpec,” Funcinpec Party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said on day two of the three-day conference. “I think the [joint party] committee will help strengthen the process of fairness and democratization of the elections in Cambodia.”
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party also considers itself a contender for the upcoming commune elections, and complains it is being harassed by the CPP in some of the provinces.
The mixed CPP-Funcinpec committees unveiled in January, designed to operate at provincial and district levels throughout Cambodia, are focused on building greater cooperation and resolving problems between the one-time rivals.
Still, political analysts and others recently questioned Funcinpec’s stature, saying the royalist party threatens to become irrelevant unless it comes up with a strong, guiding principle and vision for Cambodia’s future.
While party officials did not talk about such principles Monday, they did defend the party as still enjoying widespread support. Co-Defense Minister Sisowath Sirirath pointed as evidence to Funcinpec’s second-place showing in the 1998 national elections, in the aftermath of the 1997 factional fighting.
“We were totally broken up [in 1997], but the people still cast their vote” [for us in 1998], said Prince Sirirath.
Prince Ranariddh reiterated Monday that is essential that Funcinpec reconcile with party defectors, however he acknowledged he is meeting resistance by many members of Funcinpec’s steering committee.
“My position is very clear about this,” he said. “But as far as the return to the party of some personalities like excellencies [former first prime minister] Ung Huot, excellencies [current Council of Ministers Secretary-General] Nady Tan, [former industry minister Pou] Sothirak and [former agriculture minister] Tao Seng Huor, the steering committee of my party decided to postpone it,” he said.
Mean Sarin, deputy commander of RCAF infantry, also said at the party’s meeting Monday that the elections are a unique opportunity for Funcinpec to rebuild its political strength and that the joint committees will help.
“Some people were worried about their security. But now we have the committee and people will not be afraid to come out and canvass for the party,” said Mean Sarin. It was unclear Monday how many of the joint committees have been meeting as scheduled.
However, Prince Sirirath said he was still worried about security. Provincial militias need to be disbanded and their weapons taken from them, he said.
“We must collect weapons from the militia and then the commune elections will, hopefully, proceed in an atmosphere of free and fair elections,” Prince Sirirath said.
Serey Kosal, Funcinpec deputy secretary-general, said new peace and stability in Cambodia is allowing Funcinpec the opportunity to rebuild its base.
Khau Meng Hean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Parliamentary Relations and Inspections, said detractors of the party should wait until the results of the commune elections.
“Our strength or weakness will be seen after the result of the commune elections,” he said. “Before everyone knew that [we were intimidated]. But now we have the cooperation committee at the commune, district and provincial level….The best thing is negotiation and cooperation for Cambodia’s survival, that is the best thing now.”