As Funcinpec’s three-day congress wrapped up Tuesday, party members said senior district officials recently appointed will ensure roots of the party are established in the countryside.
Funcinpec was allocated 36 district chief positions out of the country’s 177 districts late last year, fulfilling part of the 1998 deal that formed the coalition government, Interior Ministry Secretary of State Kieng Vang of Funcinpec said Tuesday. The new positions, he said, will help the party build grass-roots support in the provinces and enable it to show well in planned commune elections.
More than 100 deputy district chief positions were also filled several months ago and Funcinpec now has representation at the district level throughout the country, Kieng Vang said.
“We hope that Funcinpec will receive more commune chief positions in the commune elections because we have district chiefs and deputy district chiefs in all provinces,” he said. “This is a step forward for our grass-roots base in communes and villages.”
An Asian diplomat based in Phnom Penh confirmed the district posts were promised during negotiations with the CPP in late 1998 and solidified in mid-1999. However, whether the new Funcinpec district officials will be able to sway rural dwellers to support the party is unclear, said the diplomat.
“But moving from zero to anywhere [in commune elections] will be considered a success for Funcinpec,” said the diplomat, noting the CPP effectively governs the entire countryside through a party network of commune and village-level supporters.
A senior CPP Interior Ministry official also poured cold water Tuesday on Funcinpec’s aspirations for commune election success based on its fresh presence in district offices. He noted the posts are politically neutral and the Funcinpec-appointed administrators are not allowed to use their position to gain favors for their party.
“Those positions are administrative….There is no power sharing at the district level,” said the CPP central committee member, who asked not to be named. “If they want to help their party they must resign. They cannot promote their party during the commune elections.”
Detractors criticize Funcinpec’s political showing since joining the coalition government with the CPP in late 1998 and maintain the nation’s governance is controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen and a group of key associates.
But Interior Co-Minister You Hockry of Funcinpec took issue with that analysis and maintained the party contributes to governing and has made progress. Noting the party’s victory in the UN-backed elections of 1993 and a strong second-place showing in 1998 despite a harsh political climate, he said Funcinpec was aiming to win two-thirds of the National Assembly’s seats in 2003 and govern alone.
“If you compare 1993 to  you can see how much has changed….[Now] if we win two-thirds of the seats [in 2003] we will have enough to form our own government,” said You Hockry.
He maintained that being part of the CPP-dominated government now is the only way for Funcinpec to ensure the safety of its supporters during future elections. The party must prepare activists, You Hockry said.
“We have to restructure our organization members down to the village level…I think we have to give these people real responsibility,” he said.
National Assembly Member Dien Del (Fun) said Tuesday that criticism of Funcinpec’s political malaise was warranted but there are few alternatives given the prevailing political climate.
“[The critics] are right. But [Funcinpec] is realistic. Do you want to see something like what happened in 1997?” asked Dien Del, referring to the factional fighting that led to scores of deaths and a fractured coalition government. He said the party must work hard to build a stronger foundation but not make political waves in the process.
The diplomat said rebuilding the party hinges on selecting a charismatic leader for the post of party secretary-general. Current Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah last week signaled a desire to step down. Party members did not publicly address this issue during the congress.