Fearing the CPP will accuse his party of creating “political instability,” Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh now appears to be stepping back from his March promise to be more critical of the ruling party.
In recent weeks, he has privately directed his party’s lawmakers to temper the sometimes harsh criticism they have lately directed at the Prime Minister Hun Sen-led government, the lawmakers say.
The prince admitted as much on Wednesday, when he told the National Assembly that Funcinpec parliamentarians are “not happy with me, because they can’t speak out as much as they wish.”
But he said the move was necessary to restore discipline. He said he didn’t want to chair the assembly’s sessions if even lawmakers from his own party would not heed his warnings not to veer from the topic at hand.
“You have to be objective and speak on the topic. If you go off the topic, we will be looked down upon,” he said.
But some lawmakers feel the prince’s caution will cost Funcinpec votes.
Earlier this year, the prince was furious at Funcinpec’s disappointing showing in the Feb 3 commune council elections. He promised that the party would no longer meekly side with the CPP, its partner in the government.
“We dared not speak out—that is why people did not vote for us,” he told party members. “In the National Assembly, Funcinpec members should say whatever they think is not right in the government.”
Funcinpec parliamentarians took advantage of the suggestion. They began openly criticizing the government and the CPP. They also began privately collaborating with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, whose anti-government views now coincided with some Funcinpec stances—for example, on election reform.
But Funcinpec did not become an opposition party—its criticisms were always more subtle. “As a coalition partner, we like to [praise the government] first, then attack it—and only in a constructive manner,” explained Funcinpec lawmaker Nan Sy.
Two lawmakers made major waves with their assaults on the CPP: Keo Remy drafted breakthrough legislation proposing the reform of the National Election Committee, and Princess Norodom Vacheara led a crusade to highlight border problems.
The princess led a fact-finding delegation to the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province, and led demands that Minister of Cabinet Sok An report to the assembly on border issues. The princess said recently that raising these issues has not made her popular with the CPP.
Lawmakers were enjoying their newfound freedom. They enjoyed using specific laws under debate as a platform to make grand statements about government corruption and social injustice.
On Wednesday, for example, Nan Sy—who has always been an outspoken presence—called for a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders while debating the proposed forestry law.
Several other Funcinpec members jumped in with criticisms ranging from AIDS to border issues, angering CPP members.
Princess Vacheara said the prince—the son of her half-brother King Norodom Sihanouk—reminded his party members not to go overboard criticizing the government because of the coalition agreement.
“The prince just respects the coalition alliance that Funcinpec joined with the CPP,” she said. “He doesn’t want us to express ourselves too strongly and ruin the political stability.”
But she maintained that the outspoken lawmakers were in the right with their criticisms. “What we have spoken about is meant to help the government in a constructive manner,” she said, specifically mentioning border encroachment and social injustice. “But the other party doesn’t want to understand, so they accuse us of creating a problem.”
She added, “I don’t know how to stop speaking up as long as I see that social injustice and abuses [of power] still exist. I got used to living in France, where people can speak out when they see the truth.”
Nan Sy, who is credited with bringing down a top CPP tourism official over the alleged mismanagement of the Preah Vihear temple, pointed out that the prince’s request was not an order.
The prince didn’t forbid lawmakers to speak, since that is their constitutional right, he said. “The prince only reminded and advised the [members of parliament] to conduct themselves with a greater degree of professionalism.”