Funcinpec Congress Opens With Party Looking to Improve
Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh told his followers Sunday that breakaway members of the party should be admitted back into the party fold, opening the way for the return of ex-party comrades.
Speaking at the opening of the party’s three-day congress, Prince Ranariddh said Funcinpec needed to improve itself to win commune elections in 2001 and national elections in 2003.
“As the president, I understand that we should gather the voices we lost in the July 5, 1997 events because those voices are the voices of Funcinpec,” Prince Ranariddh said at the party headquarters in northern Phnom Penh. “…We need to talk about coming back….The commune elections are coming in 2001 and in 2003 there will be a [national] election.”
The prince acknowledged the party had lost some of its luster and said a reconciliation of the party will help it top the CPP in future polls. But he maintained the final decision on whether or not to accept breakaway members of Funcinpec—who formed four parties, Reastr Niyum, Sangkum Thmei, National Union, and Cambodia New Life—will be made after the congress.
“After this congress, I plan to [welcome] leaders. Especially leaders of the Reastr Niyum party, to talk about the issue and explain the stance of Funcinpec’s steering committee,” Prince Ranariddh said, admitting that the steering committee does not yet think the time is right for reconciliation.
Funcinpec—the French acronym for United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia—has been on a gradual downward slide since it won the 1993 UN-sponsored elections but was forced to share power with the CPP. That rocky coalition ended brutally in 1997 when forces loyal to the CPP routed Funcinpec fighters in violence that stunned the capital.
Resistance units commanded by Funcinpec generals held out against Hun Sen loyalists along the Thai border in sporadic fighting that went on for more than a year, but the party fractured, contributing to Funcinpec losing the 1998 national election to the CPP. After accusing the CPP of fraud and intimidation, Funcinpec again entered into a coalition government with their rivals. However, political analysts have said Funcinpec has little power and is dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
A handful of prominent Funcinpec members—including former secretary general Loy Sim Chheang, industry minister Pou Sothirak and foreign minister Ung Huot—deserted the prince by remaining in Phnom Penh following the factional fighting of July 5-6 1997, and sided with the CPP, helping to legitimize the prince’s ouster as first prime minister. Several prominent Funcinpec members have described them as traitors or renegades in recent weeks.
Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Sunday that the issue of accepting back ex members of the party is not slated for discussion during the three-day congress.
“[Prince Ranariddh] said we can talk about unity and national reconciliation but that does not mean bringing back [all] individuals. There are some individuals who are not welcome yet,” said Prince Sirirath.
He said that the steering committee should discuss the pros and cons of taking the renegades back.
“What will Funcinpec gain? What will Funcinpec lose if we bring these people back?…. The people at this congress have been hurt so much by the people who left Funcinpec,” he said.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua, a Funcinpec steering committee member, said Sunday that the most important issue facing the party is preparing for upcoming commune elections. She said if the former members of the party want to come back and work hard for the party, then perhaps it’s best to accept them.
“This whole thing is about getting ready for the commune elections. Any election is a competition and the best competitor will win,” said Mu Sochua.
Om Radsady, a former Funcinpec member who joined Sangkum Thmei, said Sunday at the congress that Prince Ranariddh made the reconciliation comments to test the waters among party members.
“This is a wide message to get support from the people. He recognizes from the last elections that he has lost some support because of the July fighting….[His] first responsibility is to get back support,” said Om Radsady, who was chairman of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs commission from 1993-98.
Chap Nhalivuth, Funcinpec governor of Siem Reap province, said he supported reunification but those re admitted must show their allegiance to the party
“If anybody would like to come we have to receive them. But it is up to them to show us that they have become a Funcinpec member. They must show their [allegiance] to the party,” said Chap Nhalivuth.