Prince Norodom Sirivudh was made fully aware of the task before him Thursday, when Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said the success of the struggling royalist party depends on his half-uncle.
And in another change in the party hierarchy, Prince Ranariddh announced that Funcinpec deputy secretaries-general Veng Sereyvuth, who is minister of tourism, and Hong Sun Huot, minister of health, had resigned from their positions in the party.
An exuberant crowd of high-level Funcinpec members cheered the return to politics of once-exiled Prince Sirivudh—who was convicted in 1996 of plotting to assassinate then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen—to the No 2 position during a ceremony at Funcinpec headquarters.
“The new appointment of the secretary-general of Funcinpec will bring us success again,” Prince Ranariddh said.
In addition to being secretary- general, the popular and outspoken Prince Sirivudh also has been appointed to replace Senator Khuon Playvet, who was removed because of his frequent absences from parliamentary sessions. The appointment has to be approved by King Norodom Sihanouk, Prince Sirivudh’s half-brother.
“I believe the support from members to strengthen Funcinpec will lead to victory in the future,” Prince Sirivudh said. “That is why Funcinpec members have to be united.”
Although Funcinpec leaders stressed strengthening the party as its main goal, they also noted the party’s cooperation with the ruling CPP, its partner in the current coalition government. During the ceremony Prince Ranariddh read a congratulatory letter from CPP President Chea Sim, who said he welcomed Prince Sirivudh as Funcinpec secretary general.
“I especially fully support the agreement between both parties,” Prince Sirivudh said, referring to the coalition deal between Funcinpec and CPP. Prince Ranariddh added that “we need cooperation between the two main political parties and I believe Prince Sirivudh absolutely insists on this.”
Prince Ranariddh also on Thursday paid tribute to outgoing Funcinpec secretary general Tol Lah, saying he served Funcinpec during a difficult time as the royalists were recovering from the devastating 1997 factional fighting between CPP and Funcinpec forces. Thursday’s ceremony fell on the anniversary of the bloody street battles that rocked Phnom Penh.
Veng Sereyvuth and Hong Sun Huot are seen as being close to Tol Lah, who is also minister of education.
“I believe the whole Funcinpec party could not forget [Tol Lah’s work],” Prince Ranariddh said. “Tol Lah came to join the resistance before me.”
Prince Ranariddh said Tol Lah—who said in a speech that he would continue to work for the party—needed more time to focus on his work as education minister and Funcinpec needed a leader who could work for the party full time.
The prince said the same of the two resigning deputy secretary generals and Veng Sereyvuth agreed, saying “it’s not a big deal. I need more time to work on other things. And I support Prince Sirivudh, who can do a lot for Funcinpec.” Prince Ranariddh said Veng Sereyvuth and Hong Sun Huot will not be replaced.
One political scientist said the changes in the leadership were expected with Prince Sirivudh’s appointment as secretary general, and noted the political moves were part of Funcinpec’s plan to gain more votes in the country’s first commune elections next year and in the general elections in 2003.
“This is better for all of Cambodia because we need parties of equal strength,” he said.
Prince Sirivudh’s reappointment signals a remarkable turn in political fortune since he returned to Cambodia in 1999 after more than three years in exile. That was the price he paid after a local newspaper had printed quotes of a plan to kill Hun Sen, which were attributed to the prince.
King Sihanouk then granted Prince Sirivudh amnesty, which allowed him to come back to Cambodia, as part of the deal that set up the second coalition government between Funcinpec and CPP. Prince Sirivudh has since maintained a low profile, and abstained from being involved in politics until March, when Prince Ranariddh announced he would once again be an active member of Funcinpec.
Although Prince Sirivudh said Funcinpec needs to focus on becoming stronger, he added that politics must be peaceful.
“The democratic system will bring us to competition, certainly, but I will say friendly competition, not violence,” he said. “And this competition must not lead, absolutely not lead to confrontation.”