There were new signs of friction Monday between the National United Front’s two most visible leaders.
A pro-Sam Rainsy newspaper, Proyuth (Fighting), printed two articles critical of Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday.
One article read: “The weakness of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his corruption is causing some to think and lose confidence in him.”
An aide to Sam Rainsy confirmed Monday that the politician had gone to Bangkok specifically to meet with Prince Ranariddh, the deposed first prime minister and NUF president whose leadership Sam Rainsy has publicly questioned in past weeks.
But the requested meeting Monday never took place. Asked whether the prince refused to see him, Sam Rainsy was vague.
“I don’t want to elaborate on small details,” he said by telephone.
A spokesman for the prince, May Sam Oeun, said Sunday that the prince has no problem with Sam Rainsy, the man he ousted from Funcinpec in 1995 but with whom he later reconciled.
“He is not angry,” May Sam Oeun said of the prince. “There are some differences, yes, from time to time…but angry is not the right word to use. The right words are that they have some differences.”
The prince had said he wanted to resign as head of NUF after criticism from Sam Rainsy over the prince’s decision to end an opposition boycott of the National Assembly.
However, May Sam Oeun said Sunday the prince was still officially head of the front.
The signs of friction—if not outright division—between the NUF’s two most prominent leaders are not surprising to one longtime Cambodia watcher.
“This is not a new story. Since 1994, or even the beginning of the government, there was competition between Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh,” said analyst Raoul Jennar.
Jennar said Sam Rainsy may be frustrated with Prince Ranariddh’s recent political fumbles.
“Sam Rainsy has many reasons to believe he has the skills to become the leader of the opposition,” he said. “That is what Sam Rainsy is trying to become—the real leader of the opposition.”
Sam Rainsy himself, however, vehemently denied this analysis.
“I am the leader of Sam Rainsy Party. It is enough,” he said.
“Who the leader of NUF is doesn’t matter to me as long as he follows the principles and the course we have laid out for NUF.”
He added that the boycott call Monday proved the opposition coalition—made up of Prince Ranariddh’s Funcinpec, the Sam Rainsy Party, the Son Sann Party and the Cambodian Neutral Party—is intact.
“Some people speak of division within the NUF, but I can tell you we are united when democratic principles are at stake,” Sam Rainsy said.
Still, a recent trip into Kratie province by Sam Rainsy showed his popularity may be cutting into the prince’s support. Fifty-three-year-old Hoeng Main said although he supported Funcinpec in 1993, he will vote for Sam Rainsy in July.
“I have changed my mind. I will vote for Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Another bystander, Hai Yam, 49 year-old construction worker, also said he supports Sam Rainsy.
“I will not vote for Prince Ranariddh again. It looks that he does not lead the country very well,” Hai Yam said. “It was regrettable for me to vote for Prince Ranariddh last time, and now I have to make a right decision.”