takhmau – In his first public appearance outside Phnom Penh since returning from exile, deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Wednesday that conditions in Cambodia are “quite far away from free and fair elections.”
Prince Ranariddh, speaking to reporters after a speech to supporters in Takhmau, said that his party does not have fair access to broadcast media, the National Election Committee is not neutral and political intimidation persists.
In his speech to about 100 Funcinpec faithful, Prince Ranariddh said he wanted to prove the “rumors” that he was back.
“All I want to do here is to greet my supporters face-to-face, since I have no radio or television stations anymore,” he said. “Some people say they have heard that Ranariddh is back, but they could not see me on television. They said if they want to see Ranariddh on television, they must watch foreign channels like CNN. But most Khmers do not get CNN.”
Funcinpec-run radio and television stations were overrun during last July’s factional fighting, which led to the prince’s ouster and subsequent exile.
The prince encouraged those still loyal to him that Funcinpec, which shattered into several breakaway factions before and after the July fighting, would rise again. He said that while many of the party’s leaders split off into new parties, the Funcinpec grass-roots structure remained intact.
“Despite the hardships our members are facing, we have to lift up the party logo and sign in every district and commune,” he said. “Raising the logo in every commune is the sign of the reincarnation of the party.”
Prince Ranariddh complained of what he called CPP tricks during voter registration and told supporters they would have to be vigilant on polling day.
“If we don’t want them to win…you have to get up at 4 am on the day of the election, maybe sleep with the ballot boxes,” he said. “Don’t [let them] count the votes at night because the militia, police and National Election Committee are not neutral, so the generators will not be neutral either.”
Asked after the speech about recently published documents from Anlong Veng that suggest the Khmer Rouge were planning to use him to regain power in Cambodia, Prince Ranariddh defended his decision to negotiate with the rebel hard-liners, saying his only goal was to bring peace.
“The only thing I signed was with Khieu Samphan…regarding the recognition of the Constitution of Cambodia and the sovereignty of the King,” he said. He denied any contact with the rebel’s ruthless military commander Ta Mok or the notorious Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died last month.
The negotiations with the Khmer Rouge were cited by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as proof that Prince Ranariddh planned to use the rebels to overthrow the coalition government, the reason Hun Sen gave for ousting the prince.
Prince Ranariddh made pointed reference Wednesday to the current government’s own negotiations with the rebels, which led to mass defections and the fall of the last Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng last month.
“Events show that even in Phnom Penh now, they cannot avoid dealing with the Khmer Rouge,” he said.
And he suggested that dealing with Keo Pauk, the highest-ranking defector who led the breakaway movement in Anlong Veng, was no worse than talking to nominal Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan. “Keo Pauk is really a killer,” he said.