With little more than six months to the next national election, an already ailing Funcinpec has received more bad news with the defection of several senior party leaders to the ruling CPP, including two ministers.
Rural Development Minister and Funcinpec First Deputy President Lu Laysreng said Monday that Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi defected to the CPP last week.
She joins Funcinpec’s Minister of Cults and Religion Khun Haing, who defected recently and has since appeared on television to campaign for the CPP.
Lu Laysreng said that Finance Ministry Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang had also left for the CPP, along with his wife, Funcinpec Senator Khloth Tongphka.
Chea Peng Chheang confirmed by telephone Monday that he had joined the CPP because of his lack of confidence in Funcinpec’s leadership.
“The CPP has firm leadership,” he said.
Chea Peng Chheang also said that he switched to the CPP without being promised any future position in government and that other senior Finance Ministry officials have also left Funcinpec recently.
“I am the last one,” he added.
Secretary of State Mao Havanall, the top official at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, also confirmed Monday that he had abandoned Funcinpec for the CPP.
“This is my stance: There was a problem within the party,” he said, before declining further comment.
Having been victorious in Cambodia’s first post-conflict elections in 1993, Funcinpec has been on a downward course ever since. In April’s commune elections, the party was hit hard at the ballot box, losing more than 85 percent of the commune council seats it held nationwide.
Lu Laysreng said he viewed the defections as a betrayal by the CPP, which is still Funcinpec’s senior partner in government.
“It is sad to lose those officials because there are only about six months before the government finishes its term. It is a stab in Funcinpec’s back,” he said.
“The CPP and Funcinpec have been cooperating—why did the CPP not allow them to finish the six months?”
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay said that he was not surprised by the defections, but he came down hard on the officials who left and accused them of having originally bought their positions from former Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
“Those people are CPP members…now they have returned to their party,” he said, claiming further that some of the defectors had broken the law and are hoping to avoid prosecution by joining the ruling party.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said that the CPP stopped respecting the two parties’ 2004 power-sharing agreement after the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2006 allowing a party holding “50 percent plus one” of the seats in the National Assembly to form a government. Prior to that point a two-thirds majority was needed, necessitating the CPP to form a coalition with Funcinpec.
Nhiek Bun Chhay insisted that the defections would not tarnish the relationship between the two parties, nor would they weaken Funcinpec.
Both Nhiek Bun Chhay and Lu Laysreng said they would never join the CPP.
“I won’t betray my conscience,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
“I won’t join the CPP; I’ll only bring more members to Funcinpec from the CPP,” Lu Laysreng added.
Funcinpec issued a statement Monday acknowledging the loss of some officials, whom it branded “opportunists,” but denied recent reports in the Khmer-language press that Health Minister Nuth Sokhom, Education Minister Kol Pheng and Culture Minister Veng Sereyvuth had likely defected as well.
None of the Funcinpec ministers could be reached for comment Monday, nor could Ing Kantha Phavi or Khun Haing.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that his party still respects the coalition agreement it has with Funcinpec, saying that the accord is still “firm and honest.”
He added that those officials that came to the CPP did so of their own free will and without being approached by the ruling party.
“The CPP has an ‘open sky’ policy allowing anyone to participate in the party,” he said.