Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is set to return as the president of Funcinpec eight years after he was unceremoniously ousted, said Monday he would help jump-start the ailing royalist party, ensuring that it wins seats in the next parliamentary elections and finding it yet another permanent headquarters.
At a press conference at his villa in the south of Phnom Penh, the 71-year-old prince also boasted of his enduring physical strength and bemoaned the lack of female journalists present at the news briefing.
Prince Ranariddh said his return to the struggling party would guarantee it wins seats in the National Assembly once again, having failed to retain its last two seats in the 2013 national election.
“It won’t be about fortune because we already know the party will be elected, but we just don’t know how many seats,” he said.
The prince said that only he, working with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, could help prevent Cambodia’s monarchy going the way of France’s.
“In France, people brought the king to be beheaded in 1789,” he said. “The monarchy ended, and the republican regime has continued to this day.”
“There are only two political parties [in Cambodia] that can be the tool of stability of a royalist regime based on the Constitution—that is, the CPP and Funcinpec, which is now led by Norodom Ranariddh.”
Yet the prince also rebuked claims that his return to politics is an effort masterminded by Mr. Hun Sen to divide or damage the opposition CNRP, whose rise has threatened the CPP’s chokehold on power.
“My goal is not to break up any political party. My single goal is to gather voices of royalists and Sihanoukists, which is my voice,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh said one of his first orders of business would be to secure Funcinpec a new permanent headquarters. The party has moved its headquarters a number of times since the 1990s, when it was still a meaningful political force, most recently announcing yet another planned relocation in August.
The prince said he had spoken with Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, the current Funcinpec president and the prince’s half-sister, who told him the party’s secretary-general sold the headquarters.
“I spoke to Samdech Arun this morning, saying, ‘Samdech, I seem to receive a party without a headquarters, don’t I?’ Prince Ranariddh said. “Samdech Arun said ‘There is no headquarters because His Excellency Nhiek Bun Chhay sold it already.’”
In August, Mr. Bun Chhay said the party was selling its old offices in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district to relocate to a villa the party official said he owns on Sen Sok district’s Chea Sophara Street.
Mr. Bun Chhay was accused by a former party official at the time of selling the building in order to pay off an $800,000 debt taken out by party leaders.
“I never said that Funcinpec is new, but all of you understand that this Funcinpec led by Ranariddh will be a new Funcinpec, so everything must be new if it’s supposed to be new, except the wife,” Prince Ranariddh joked of his intention to obtain a new headquarters.
On Friday, a day after the announcement of his return to Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh celebrated his 71st birthday with his younger second wife, Ouk Phalla, a former professional classical Apsara dancer.
On Monday, Prince Ranariddh joked that he was still a strong man despite his age, asking one reporter how old he was after the reporter asked a question about whether Funcinpec can really recover.
“I’m 23 years old,” the reporter replied.
“I want to send a message: Don’t try me just because you see me reaching 71 years of age,” Prince Ranariddh said, drawing laughter from the reporters.
“Those aged 23 and those who are about to die can run for a long time like an old car,” he joked.
Prince Ranariddh also joked about the lack of women among the reporters at the press conference, asking the journalists to bring more women next time.
“Next time, don’t just come with only men like this. Please bring women, too,” he said.
The prince ended the press conference by telling the assembled press pack to turn off their recorders and video cameras before distributing $400 in cash to a number of local media reporters.
Prince Ranariddh won the 1993 U.N.-run election as the leader of Funcinpec, which was founded in the early 1980s by his father, Norodom Sihanouk, as an armed resistance movement to the Phnom Penh regime.
In July 1997, the prince was ousted as first prime minister after factional fighting in Phnom Penh between armed forces loyal to him and others loyal to then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen of the CPP.
Prince Ranariddh returned to become president of the National Assembly in a new coalition with the CPP in December 1998 but resigned from that position after his ouster from Funcinpec in October 2006.
Funcinpec will organize a general congress on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island on January 19 to once again elect Prince Ranariddh as the party president.
Mr. Bun Chhay, the current secretary-general, and Princess Arunrasmey, the president, will both be named Funcinpec vice presidents, the prince said.