Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday that he will still share power with the ailing Funcinpec party following the 2008 general election, even if his ruling CPP wins enough votes to rule alone.
Hun Sen also reassured Funcinpec, the CPP’s junior coalition partner, that it still had a future in politics, despite Prince Norodom Ranariddh having formed his own new political party.
“If we have more than 50 percent [of the votes], I will invite Funcinpec to continue to work with us,” Hun Sen pledged at a ceremony in Kompong Thom province, which he attended with Funcinpec’s newly installed president Keo Puth Rasmey and Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay.
Hun Sen said that Funcinpec is strong enough to endure departing officials such as Prince Ranariddh, who was ousted from his position as Funcinpec president in October, and urged continued grassroots cooperation between the two parties.
“The ex-president left and there is a new president. We still work with Funcinpec because we work with the party, not individuals,” he said in the speech, which was broadcast on Apsara radio.
“Individuals can die but the party cannot die,” Hun Sen said. “The partnership is a long-term relationship between the CPP and Funcinpec,” the prime minister added.
“If we lack water, please pump water together, regardless of who owns the pumping machine.”
Hun Sen’s rare words of support for Funcinpec come after months of removals of royalist government officials from their jobs and their replacement with either CPP officials or Funcinpec officials in good standing with the CPP.
Despite Hun Sen’s verbal support for Nhiek Bun Chhay’s Funcinpec faction, commentators have warned that Prince Ranariddh still commands loyalty among royalist party members and that Funcinpec could suffer an exodus of supporters to the Norodom Ranariddh Party.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero welcomed Hun Sen’s speech and said that for April’s commune election, Funcinpec will campaign by proclaiming the joint achievements of the CPP-Funcinpec government.
“We will stop using the criticism policy,” he said, adding, “As a wife and husband we must understand each other. We are not the CPP’s puppets.”
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said he was not surprised by the two parties’ camaraderie.
“[Funcinpec] is helping the CPP,” he said.
The prince’s new NRP will campaign by attacking the CPP on issues such as its failure to pass the long-awaited anti-corruption law, he said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, who has entered a political alliance with Prince Ranariddh, said the CPP and Funcinpec have all but merged into a single party. He also said he has received complaints that the CPP is now using Funcinpec to pressure members of the public not to join other political parties.
Nouv Sovathero denied the allegation, saying that people are free to join whatever party they want.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Hun Sen may be using Funcinpec to counter balance possible dissatisfied elements within his own party.
“So far, there has been a problem within the CPP, so he needs to have checks and balances of power,” Koul Panha said.
But he warned that Funcinpec would ultimately hobble itself if it climbs further into bed with the CPP and fails to criticize the ruling party.
“There must be something different to attract voters,” he said.