Funcinpec’s floundering coalition with the CPP dipped to a new low on Tuesday when the National Assembly cast a surprise vote that removed Prince Norodom Sirivudh from his post as deputy prime minister—his last remaining function in the coalition cabinet.
The vote on Prince Sirivudh’s status as deputy prime minister caught political observers off guard, and follows his recent sacking as co-Minister of Interior by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his dismissal as secretary-general of Funcinpec by party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Once considered one of Funcinpec’s most popular leaders and the man most capable of pulling the royalist party out years of malaise, Prince Sirivudh was absent for the vote.
An aide who answered Prince Sirivudh’s mobile telephone said the prince did not want to speak to reporters.
Tuesday’s vote was expected to formally strip Prince Sirivudh and Funcinpec’s Nhiek Bun Chhay of their positions as co-Ministers of Interior and Defense and to elect Sar Kheng and Tea Banh as sole ministers of each.
The vote, however, determined their fates as deputy prime ministers as well.
Only 17 of the 111 lawmakers present voted to keep Prince Sirivudh in his deputy prime minister post while 106 parliamentarians voted for Funcinpec’s Nhiek Bun Chhay to retain his deputy prime minister title.
The lawmakers also voted unanimously to keep Sar Kheng as minister of interior and deputy prime minister, while Tea Banh fared almost as remarkably with 110 votes in favor of his position as minister of defense and deputy prime minister.
“Royal family members are under attack,” Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara said after the vote, in which she did not participate.
Princess Vacheara reiterated her warning that efforts were afoot to exclude royals from the country’s political life, which she said was a prelude to the end of the monarchy.
“This clearly shows that the two political parties are trying to oust royal family members from politics and then it will lead to the elimination of the monarchy,” she said.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said his good showing in the poll proved he had the support of the Assembly. Commenting on Prince Sirivudh, Nhiek Bun Chhay said that decision was the will of the Assembly.
“It was the lawmakers’ votes,” he said.
The vote also saw CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin elected Assembly president, a post recently vacated by Prince Ranariddh. CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel was elected first deputy president and Funcinpec’s You Hockry was elected second deputy president.
You Hockry said Prince Sirivudh’s removal was a consequence of the Assembly’s recent adoption of the 50-percent-plus-one voting formula—a system that Funcinpec members also voted to adopt.
Funcinpec members who voted for the system must now accept “the reality,” he added.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said there was no prior indication that the Assembly vote would also determine the deputy prime minister posts.
“There was no expectation,” Koul Panha said.
Heng Samrin denied that a plot existed to oust Prince Sirivudh.
“It was the decision of each lawmaker. They have the right to vote. [Lawmakers] didn’t support him so he failed,” Heng Samrin said.
Based on the total numbers of votes cast, some Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers also did not cast their votes in support of the prince, he added.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy echoed Heng Samrin, adding that lawmakers had lost confidence in the prince. The vote was for an individual and the royal family would not be affected, Sam Rainsy added.
Prince Sirivudh is remembered for his year as foreign minister in 1993 when he spoke out strongly against corruption, and then resigned in 1994 from his job to protest the removal of his colleague, Funcinpec’s then-Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, now the opposition leader.
Prince Sirivudh was Funcinpec’s secretary-general, a position that ranked him second only to party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, when in 1995 he was arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Found guilty in February 1996 of allegedly threatening Hun Sen’s life, the prince was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. He remained in exile until his low-profile return to Cambodia in 1999 following an amnesty from then-King Sihanouk.
Though Prince Sirivudh had reportedly promised to stay out of politics, by 2001 he was actively working again for Funcinpec.