Convicted coup leader and former exile Prince Norodom Chakrapong is reportedly starting a new anti-communist, anti-CPP political party—a move that has attracted heavy criticism from top Funcinpec members.
Although details about the creation of Prince Chakrapong’s tentatively named “Khmer Spirit Party” were unavailable Sunday, several top Funcinpec officials—including at least one member of the Funcinpec Steering Committee—confirmed that Prince Chakrapong is indeed going to create a new royalist party.
Prince Chakrapong, who declined to comment about the formation of the party on Sunday, said he would speak about the matter later this week.
“I tried to persuade him not to start this party,” said Princess Norodom Vacheara, a member of the Funcinpec Steering Committee and the Chairperson for the Committee of Foreign Affairs at the National Assembly. “I told him it would be bad.”
On Saturday, Princess Vacheara said she and two unidentified Funcinpec members met with Prince Chakrapong at the Hotel Cambodiana to discuss the creation of the Khmer Spirit Party and urged him not to form the party because “I am worried it would hurt Funcinpec. But he absolutely wanted to start the party,” she said Sunday.
Although Princess Vacheara said Prince Chakrapong did not release his political platform and told her Saturday that he would “follow the Sihanouk line,” a National Assembly member close to the situation said Prince Chakrapong’s party would be an anti-communist, pro-democracy party “that would never form a coalition with the CPP.”
The promises of a non-CPP royalist party sparked concern among Funcinpec members who saw their party lose strength after the February commune elections.
Princess Vacheara said the new royalist party would damage Funcinpec because most people in the country would not understand why he would want to start his own party when he already has the support of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Funcinpec. The new party would probably take votes away from Funcinpec during the 2003 national elections, she added.
“People would not understand why the two brothers could not work together. This would not be good for the monarchy,” she said.
Several Funcinpec members agreed with the princess, including at least two high-ranking Funcinpec ministers who declined to be identified.
“This will confuse many people,” said one Funcinpec minister Sunday. “For those of us in the leadership, it is okay. But for the people and other Funcinpec members, it will be confusing.”
Another Funcinpec minister, however, had a stronger opinion about Prince Chakrapong.
“Morally speaking, he is not a man of principles…. And politically speaking, he is not considered a serious politician,” the official said Sunday.
The son of King Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Prince Chakrapong served as a top general in the royalist army that fought against the Vietnamese-backed government during the 1980s. He defected to the CPP in 1992 and was thought by some to have had a poor relationship with Prince Ranariddh after Ranariddh’s Funcinpec won the 1993 UN-sponsored elections.
In 1993, he allegedly led a brief secession movement in several eastern provinces with Sin Song, a former CPP Minister of Interior.
In July 1994, Prince Chakrapong and Sin Song allegedly plotted a coup against the government but failed when the 300-plus armed force allegedly enlisted by the prince were turned back by government soldiers. At the time, the prince said he was innocent.
Prince Chakrapong left Cambodia immediately after the attack after King Sihanouk issued a request allowing him to leave. The prince was convicted in absentia of plotting a coup and sentenced in 1994 to 20 years in prison.
He was reported to have lived in Malaysia, Thailand and France. The King granted Prince Chakrapong amnesty in 1998 and the embattled prince returned to Cambodia in March 1999.
The prince founded Royal Phnom Penh Airways in 1999, reportedly with his own money.
Since the Khmer Spirit Party could be founded on a “pro-democracy” stance similar to the Sam Rainsy Party, at least one member of the opposition party expressed alarm over the formation of the new party.
“One always has to be concerned with the newcomer,” said Tioulong Saumura, National Assembly member and wife of Sam Rainsy Party leader Sam Rainsy. “He may take votes away from us in the next elections, but not a lot.”
She added, however, that she would like to see more political parties with a pro-democracy stance and would not exclude a cooperation with the new party.
“If there is a political party that should be threatened, its Funcinpec,” she said. “There will be two parties courting the royalists, and although he may say he is anti-CPP and anti-communist—the same as the Sam Rainsy Party—he is still a royalist.”
(Additional Reporting by Thet Sambath and Brian Calvert)