Prince Sisowath Thomico, a prominent CNRP official and the only member of the royal family openly aligned with the opposition, threatened on Friday to leave the party if fundamental changes were not made in the coming months.
“I’m threatening to leave the CNRP if there are not reforms of the way it is run and organized,” Prince Thomico said.
“There are a number of issues that nobody dares to cope with,” he added. “The main issue is division. Behind the unity of Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, everything else is divided and this is not acceptable. We need to find a way to unite if we are going to win the coming elections.”
The comments come after Kem Monivithya, a senior party official and the daughter of Mr. Sokha, the CNRP’s acting president, publicly mocked party leader Sam Rainsy for not returning to the country in a series of tweets over the past two weeks.
“It’s just a symbol of the lack of communication within the party,” Prince Thomico said of the public squabbling. “We are not working as a party. We are working as individuals, which is not the way to run a party, especially if we want to rule the country.”
Prince Thomico said he would raise his concerns at a CNRP steering committee next week, and hoped that others in the party would be receptive. If the issues were not addressed, he said the party had no chance at the 2018 national election.
“As long as it remains as it is, there is no chance for the CNRP to win the next election,” the prince said, adding that the structure of the party was fine, but that effective organizing continued to be stifled by division and the pursuit of personal interests.
“If there is no reform, I see there is no reason to stay in the party. The decision will come in the next few months,” he said.
The CNRP was formed in 2012 with the merger of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, founded and led by Mr. Sokha. However, the pair is now physically separated, with Mr. Rainsy officially exiled from the country earlier this month, and Mr. Sokha barred from leaving Cambodia due to a court case widely seen as being politically motivated.
Yim Sovann, the head of the CNRP’s executive committee and a party spokesman, said that there were naturally disagreements among opposition officials, but that the party remained united by common interests.
“It is like having a family dinner,” he said of disputes within the party. “The mother wants to go to suki soup, the father wants to go to a beer garden, the children want to go somewhere else, but they all go to the same place in the end. That is called democracy.”
Mr. Sovann said he did not understand where Prince Thomico’s criticism was coming from.
“I think the unity is still there—the common objective, the common political will, the common interests of the people,” he said. “There are some differences that can be solved peacefully.”
The spokesman said that as a symbol of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and King Norodom Sihamoni, the prince was an important figure in the party, and that the party would be receptive to his concerns.
“We all welcome advice and recommendation to be raised in the meetings,” he said. “But if nobody supports you, accept that. Finally you have to respect the majority.”
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum public policy think tank, said there was no doubt that the opposition party needed to be more professional from the top down.
“I think Prince Thomico is right in pointing out that some personalities tend to dominate the opposition,” he said. “If you look at the party, you see a party of strong men but not strong institutions.”
Mr. Virak said the opposition needed to improve its ability to put forth strong policy proposals, make strategic decisions and, most importantly, both raise funds and spend them effectively.
Still, he said, the CNRP was in a strong position ahead of the 2018 election due to the same thing that drove its success in 2013—dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling party.
“They can still run on frustration and problems in society that are made much more obvious with the spread of smartphones, the internet, social media and all that,” he said. “That reality is still there and will only be more so in 2018.”