A year ago, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh were trading insults in the media as the CPP predicted victory in the July 27 polls.
Now on the eve of a National Assembly meeting to end the almost yearlong political stalemate, the opposition party and royalists appear to be on the verge of a split, while Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares for a new mandate with nearly all of the CPP ministers in place and two more ministries in tow.
Parliament is expected to meet today and ratify a “package vote” that will reappoint Hun Sen as prime minister, keep Prince Ranariddh as Assembly president and put in place a much-expanded government Cabinet.
The opposition’s 24 parliamentarians, however, won’t attend.
In another sign that the opposition’s tenuous Alliance of Democrats partnership with Funcinpec is falling apart, Sam Rainsy said Wednesday his party will boycott today’s Assembly meeting out of respect for King Norodom Sihanouk and indignation over the package vote, which many contend is unconstitutional.
An hour before that announcement, Prince Ranariddh accused the opposition of stalling, asking for government positions while criticizing the package vote measure.
“He wants to eat butter and get the money,” Prince Ranariddh said Wednesday of Sam Rainsy, using a French expression. “He must choose the butter or the money.”
Speaking to reporters on his return from the Philippines, the prince said the party will proceed with today’s package vote and end the deadlock on the basis of a power-sharing deal reached with Hun Sen late last month.
Safeguarded by a special measure calling for a public show-of-hands, a joint vote by CPP and Funcinpec parliamentarians will be enough to pass the measure and end the deadlock.
King Sihanouk, however, has sparked some last-minute drama. In self-exile at his North Korea palace, the King wrote Tuesday that he will abdicate the throne “in the near future” when the Crown Council is fully formed and can receive his official notice.
As a result of the deadlock, the nine-member council now lacks its three members from the Assembly.
The King, who on several occasions has threatened to abdicate the throne, gave no reason for his decision to abdicate and stay out of politics. But Sam Rainsy and most observers seem confident that the announcement is linked to the latest power-sharing deal and its reliance on the package vote.
“This can be the beginning of a very serious, dangerous process if we don’t react in time,” Sam Rainsy said, asking both parties to cancel today’s meeting and reconsider the deal in favor of one that includes the King.
“The CPP and Funcinpec have been trying to exclude the King,” he charged.
But the King’s veiled appeal is unlikely to deter Funcinpec or the CPP from going forward.
Instead, Prince Ranariddh said the masses will demand that the King remain on the throne, and he brushed off a suggestion that the message from Pyongyang was a sign of disapproval.
“On behalf of the father of our country, he didn’t say [we] are right or wrong. He wants to state that the leaders must be responsible for the country,” the prince said.
Whether or not opposition members will take Cabinet posts remains unclear. The prince says he has already offered prominent positions to top opposition leaders, including the nomination of Parliamentarian Tioulong Samaura as minister of health and Senator Ou Bunlong as a secretary of state in the powerful Ministry of Finance.
Sam Rainsy, whose party has never held a Cabinet post, was noncommittal Wednesday, refusing to speculate beyond today’s Assembly meeting. He also refused to speculate on the future of the Alliance if Funcinpec joins today’s meeting.
“Funcinpec calls itself a royalist party. They always capitalize on the fact that it was founded by the King. It cannot ignore the King or despise the King…. I believe Funcinpec will not be in such a suicidal mood as to join the meeting,” he said.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment on the package vote or how it could affect the Alliance’s standing.
“Prince Norodom Ranariddh is president of the Alliance of Democrats, so he should solve the problem,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)