Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Friday that Prime Minister Hun Sen “played a clear role” in orchestrating the prince’s imminent return as leader of the Funcinpec party, which he said will work closely with the ruling CPP in order to fulfill the wishes of late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
The prince, who led Funcinpec to victory in the 1993 U.N.-run election, was on Thursday once again named as its president, eight years after being ousted from the party and less than a year after launching his own rival party.
He said Friday that he felt compelled to answer the call from the current Funcinpec president, Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, and the party’s secretary-general, Nhiek Bun Chhay, to revive the struggling royalist party. “It is an opportunity that we would be able to end the divisions in the royal family,” Prince Ranariddh said by telephone shortly after celebrating his 71st birthday.
“It is a unique opportunity to implement what my father [the late King Sihanouk] said on the 20th of October 2011,” he said. “He said we should reunite all the royalists and combine with other political forces. For my father, that was the CPP, led by Samdech Hun Sen, to solve the political problems.”
Prince Ranariddh said Mr. Hun Sen played a key role in facilitating his return to the royalist party that has rejected him over the past decade.
“Of course, Samdech Hun Sen has played a clear role in encouraging the royalists and Sihanoukists to join forces and not continue to be divided,” the prince said.
Prince Ranariddh also accused Prince Sisowath Sirirath, his cousin and a senior member of the Funcinpec party who on Thursday described his return as a “calamity” and “a sad day for Funcinpec,” of being a republican.
“I think calamity or not, among the decision-makers in the party, there are 20 favorable to my return to lead Funcinpec. But in any kind of democracy, there will be some voices against me,” Prince Ranariddh said.
“It’s OK, I accept it, but I do simply hope that Prince Sirirath is not a republican anymore like he used to be, but will help the Funcinpec party under my leadership.”
Prince Sirirath is the son of Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, who as Lon Nol’s deputy prime minister was accused of being the driving force behind the “coup” that saw then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk ousted as head of state in 1970, and the subsequent establishment of the Khmer Republic.
Prince Sirirath, who last month called for Funcinpec to cooperate more closely with the opposition CNRP, could not be reached on Friday.
Keo Puth Rasmey who replaced Prince Ranariddh as Funcinpec president when the prince was ousted in 2006 and is the husband of Princess Arunrasmey, said it was true that not everyone in the party supported the prince’s return.
“It’s true, we’re democratic,” Mr. Puth Rasmey said. “We cannot make statistics about the exact numbers but I can confirm he is not 100 percent supported, otherwise we would not have this problem of reconciliation.”
“We have two parties, which means that some people support him and some people do not support him. This is why we had problems in 2006, when Prince Ranariddh was ousted and replaced by me,” he said.
Mr. Puth Rasmey said Prince Ranariddh’s 2006 ouster, which was engineered by Mr. Bun Chhay, who served as the prince’s top military general throughout the 1990s, was an error that led the party to win no seats in the 2013 national election.
“After the decision [in 2006], the Funcinpec started to diminish in popularity. There was a lot of struggle, and many wanted Prince Ranariddh and Funcinpec to come together to solve this problem,” he said.
“It was a mistake. I admit they should not have made this mistake to divide. The ones who pushed Prince Ranariddh out, they had a pretext of reforming the Funcinpec, but Prince Ranariddh said it was a coup.”
Mr. Puth Rasmey added that both he and his wife had accepted the party presidency to help preserve its character, but said now is the right time for the prince’s return.
“Now we have preserved our identity as the party of King Sihanouk but we need to win some seats in the National Assembly, otherwise we are just a party with no seats,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh said it was too soon to predict how Funcinpec may fare at the 2018 election, but said he hoped to regain a presence in the parliament, which is currently divided between the CPP’s 68 seats and the CNRP’s 55.
“I cannot say how many seats we may obtain, but one thing I can say is that in the political geography we now have three major parties in Cambodia: the CPP, the CNRP and the Funcinpec,” Prince Ranariddh said.