Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh was ousted from his position as party president Wednesday, Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay announced.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said the removal was necessary because of continuing deterioration in relations between the prince and Prime Minister Hun Sen, and the fact that the prince spends too much time overseas.
Prince Ranariddh’s whereabouts were unknown Wednesday.
Speaking after a hastily convened party congress at Funcinpec headquarters in Phnom Penh, Nhiek Bun Chhay said 1,600 members of Funcinpec’s National Council had unanimously voted to “elevate” the prince to the position of “historical president.”
“The cooperation between Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen and Samdech Prince Norodom Ranariddh broke down, so that they could not continue to cooperate,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
“The problem caused trouble between the parties,” he told the crowd of some 3,000 who attended the congress sporting T-shirts and caps bearing stickers of Funcinpec’s new logo, from which the prince’s face has been removed.
Prince Ranariddh became Cambodia’s first democratically elected prime minister in 1993 and had served as the royalist party’s president since 1992. He was commander of royalist resistance force, based on the Thai border, from 1985 onward.
Prince Ranariddh’s ignominious removal by his own party on Wednesday follows after several lackluster years in national politics, during which he came under increasing fire for his poor political leadership and his flamboyant private life.
The prince’s so-called promotion was followed by the appointment of Keo Puth Rasmey, Cambodia’s Ambassador to Germany, as Funcinpec’s new president.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said Prince Ranariddh’s numerous trips overseas were especially problematic with the commune elections slated for next year.
He also claimed that Funcinpec had been accused of being “undemocratic” because of a party bylaw that stated Prince Ranariddh must be president for life.
“If we talk about democracy, there is no party president that can become the president for his whole life,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said. “We want the president for only five years.”
Nhiek Bun Chhay also announced that Lu Laysreng, Funcinpec’s minister of rural development, has been appointed to the position of Funcinpec first deputy president. Prince Sisowath Sirirath has also been appointed as the party’s second deputy president, he added.
Prince Ranariddh’s public affairs adviser Ok Socheat, who declined to reveal the prince’s current location, said the removal was illegal.
“We will sue. We don’t recognize the decision made by the congress,” Ok Socheat said.
Making his inaugural speech as newly elected president, Keo Puth Rasmey told the congress that he was honored by his appointment and called for Funcinpec to unite to restore its dignity and reputation.
“I will honestly serve the Funcinpec party,” he said. “I am confident that with the support of the leaders and members, the Funcinpec par-ty will receive a new image and be successful in the upcoming elections,” he added.
“I promise to continue cooperation with other political parties and especially with the CPP.”
Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Keo Puth Rasmey was appointed because of his diplomatic experience.
He added that it was time for Prince Ranariddh to “move up to the ranks of historical president.”
CPP and Senate President Chea Sim quickly issued a statement welcoming Keo Puth Rasmey’s appointment.
“On behalf of the members of CPP and myself, I warmly welcome his excellency and members of the Funcinpec party with the successful congress,” Chea Sim wrote.
SRP President Sam Rainsy also welcomed Prince Ranariddh’s replacement.
“From today on, the Funcinpec party under the leadership of his excellency will have good cooperation with other political parties, especially the Sam Rainsy Party,” Sam Rainsy said.
Julio Jeldres, official biographer to retired King Norodom Sihanouk, wrote in an e-mail that the prince’s removal was likely the end of his political career.
“This title of ‘Historic President’ means nothing [and] is the kind of stuff used by communist regimes when they push their leaders from power,” he wrote.
He also said that Hun Sen will continue to capitalize on the continuing turmoil inside Funcinpec.
“It is in the interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen to have Funcinpec in absolute disarray as the party has been this past year,” Jeldres wrote.
“His so-called win-win strategy is to destroy any party that could or would present a challenge to his domination of Cambodian political life,” he added.