In the latest skirmish of an ongoing battle for supporters between royalist parties, Funcinpec claimed they had accepted over 300 defecting Norodom Ranariddh Party members Thursday at a public ceremony in Kampot province and expect more to join soon.
“More than 300 NRP commune councilor candidates joined with Funcinpec,” said Ok Socheat, an adviser to Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey. He added that on Aug 26, his party will receive a further 700 NRP defectors in Banteay Meanchey province and an additional 300 in Siem Reap province.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said that reforms made by his party, especially at its October 2006 congress, have encouraged the NRP members to defect. “They think that what Funcinpec has done is correct,” he said.
It was, however, during that October congress that Prince Ranariddh was ousted from Funcinpec’s presidency, a decision that led to his creating the NRP.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha denied that NRP members are defecting to Funcinpec, claiming that the Kampot ceremony drew the numbers it did because of gifts offered to those who attended.
“I heard that it was students who received gifts [Thursday] morning,” he said.
Ok Socheat said Funcinpec did give ceremony participants $2.50 to cover travel expenses and a sarong, but said this did not constitute purchasing their allegiance. “We don’t buy minds,” he said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Funcinpec is focusing on encouraging NRP officials to rejoin their party because it is easier than trying to convince members of other political parties to defect. “NRP officials want to reunite with Funcinpec like other top officials,” he said, referring to the recent defections of NRP leaders like Prince Sisowath Thomico, Ok Socheat and Sorei Kosal.
As the two royalist parties duke it out at the grassroots level, there also appears to be a growing faction within Funcinpec’s leadership calling for Prince Thomico to stand as the party’s candidate for prime minister in 2008.
“There are some individuals that want me to be [Funcinpec] honorary president and the party’s prime minister candidate,” Prince Thomico said Thursday. He declined to comment further, saying that he wanted to maintain “harmony” within the party.
Ok Socheat confirmed that the intra-party movement existed. “There is a movement that thinks about it,” he said, but added that no decision would be made until the next party congress, which he said would be held in October or November.
Nouv Sovathero said that the party’s permanent committee has not yet considered the request concerning Prince Thomico, adding that he personally was against the idea. “I do not support the movement’s idea because it would provoke a chaotic situation within the party,” he said.