Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh is maneuvering to control his party by asking all 33 steering committee members to resign, diplomats and political analysts said Friday.
The prince is concerned his influence over the more than 80 Funcinpec officials with top positions could be watered down since the appointees’ boss in the government will be CPP Prime Minister Hun Sen, they said.
“Ranariddh will find it hard to control his members of the government,” said one Cambodian political analyst, who asked not to be named. “They may be tempted not to listen to the prince if the power and money in this new government comes only from the prime minister…. So he can only try to control the party. It’s his way to maintain some authority.”
Funcinpec steering committee member May Sam-Oeun said Friday all committee members were asked to resign but said he could not discuss the issue.
The request should not have been a surprise to the steering committee members, said an Asian diplomat, who maintained there was an agreement before the election to streamline the committee. He added, though, that some steering committee members wanted to wait to do the restructuring at a party congress, currently scheduled for February.
Prince Ranariddh’s action to purge the committee was a wise move because it will help him control party policy, a Cambodian observer said, noting the new appointees—and re-appointees—will likely stay loyal to the prince.
The observer pointed out that because the government is CPP-dominated, it is crucial that Prince Ranariddh retains firm authority over his party. He said the prince can wield more power as party president than as National Assembly chairman.
According to the Cambodian observer, there were three main factional conflicts developing inside Funcinpec: between royalists and Western-trained democrats; between long-time Funcinpec members and newer faces; and finally one between intellectuals and revolutionaries, former freedom fighters.
“I think Prince Ranariddh is overwhelmed [by all the internal conflicts]. He’s not the prime minister anymore, as chair of the National Assembly he doesn’t have that much power. I think he’s afraid his power and popularity is fading,” the observer said.
According to the observer, it has not been the first time Prince Ranariddh has attempted to disband the steering committee. The last time was before the factional fighting of July 1997, but that attempt failed, the observer said.
Many committee members, have already agreed to “voluntarily” resign from the steering committee.
“Everyone will [resign],” said the analyst. “To do otherwise would be to provoke open conflict within the party, lose that [steering committee] position and also probably their seat in the Assembly and position in the government.”
He added it could drive some key party members away from Prince Ranariddh. “It’s a clever move. But a risky game,” he said.