Defending Funcinpec following scathing attacks by the government press agency and Prime Minister Hun Sen, party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh said on Monday the royalist party would not be silenced ahead of the July 27 elections.
The prince also said Funcinpec wished to remain in a coalition with the ruling CPP, but that his party was concentrated on maximizing its election results and would continue criticizing government failings.
Using language not heard since the turbulent political climate of the mid-1990s, the government news agency Agence Kampuchea-Presse published a commentary on Friday attacking the “cowards” who shake hands with the government but then “curse” when its back is turned.
The lengthy AKP report, broadcast on pro-government radio and television, was followed on Sunday by a speech from Hun Sen attacking a “partner” who he claimed was betraying him.
Hun Sen did not mention names, but did say he may be forced to react “strongly” to his critic.
“I will keep talking about where I find the government is not performing well, so let me speak up. I have to speak the truth as a [coalition] partner,” Prince Ranariddh said outside the National Assembly on Monday.
“I always avoid hurting the CPP directly…. But if they do not let me speak up it is like tying my hands,” said the prince, adding that gagging Funcinpec gave the Sam Rainsy Party a political advantage in the upcoming elections.
The prince said he should not be held responsible for any political tension in the run-up to the election, and that despite the current “problem,” Funcinpec will not leave the coalition.
“Whether or not there is instability, [people] cannot blame Funcinpec for this reason, because Funcinpec does not have the army or police forces,” the prince said.
“Funcinpec is only a political party, we are empty-handed, we have pens, we have some broadcasting but we don’t have arms,” he said.
Titled “Don’t Think Cambodians Forget,” the AKP commentary on Friday claimed the resistance movement on the Thai border in the 1980s helped the Khmer Rouge survive after 1979 and prevented aid from reaching the government in Phnom Penh.
“They stay with us, work with us, shake hands with us, sing the honest song with us. But they launch their strategy to attack us constantly by using language which, if we did not know, it could lead us to think it is the language of the…bandit along the border,” AKP wrote.
“Khmer people know clearly who caused the suffering that remains until today. Khmers… remember clearly the group that now curses helped the Khmer Rouge to continue to breathe, to survive, to have energy again after the Jan 7, 1979 liberation,” AKP added.
Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara said she considered the attacks “threats” and incitement ahead of the election which may signal that CPP fears growing support for the royalist party.
“Now we have only one-and-a-half months to the election. It’s a real scandal using such words…. Some of my friends are worried about security and a free and fair election,” the princess said.
Funcinpec co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath and Serey Kosal, an adviser to Prince Ranariddh, said the criticism was typical in an election year.
But Funcinpec will continue a campaign separate from the CPP, they said.
“They want us to keep quiet and not say anything. We cannot be a partner like that,” Serey Kosal said.
“We only try to get more votes for the July election, then we will say who is our partner,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle and Thet Sambath)