Funcinpec officials are calling “100 percent wrong” claims by the opposition that Princess Norodom Vacheara, one of the royalist’s most outspoken lawmakers, has defected to the Sam Rainsy Party.
“I don’t know how Sam Rainsy gets information,” Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Funcinpec’s secretary general and a brother of the princess, said Thursday.
Princess Vacheara, a half-sister to King Norodom Sihanouk, is currently in Paris and could not be reached for comment. But Sam Rainsy said Thursday he met with the princess in France two weeks ago to discuss joining his party before the 2003 national elections.
“She asked for her own position within the Sam Rainsy Party in the near future and she will be our number one candidate for the SRP in Kandal province,” he said. “I understand she is hopeless with [Funcinpec President Prince Norodom] Ranariddh.”
As royalist infighting escalated in recent months the opposition leader has made several offers to Funcinpec members to join him, and claims hundreds of defectors have come over to his side, though Princess Vacheara would be the first high-level Funcinpec member to do so.
When asked if the party would publicly welcome Princess Vacheara into the fold, Sam Rainsy said no, adding “If we have to make a ceremony for each Funcinpec member who joins the Sam Rainsy Party it would take the whole year.”
But Prince Ranariddh said Thursday that Funcinpec, which is expected to hold a strategy meeting today for the upcoming elections, remains unified, despite signs of tension within its ranks.
“Funcinpec keeps unity and solidarity. There is no break at all,” Prince Ranariddh said.
Funcinpec spokesman Kol Pheng said Thursday that Sam Rainsy’s claims about Princess Vacheara are “complete lies and exaggeration” meant to damage the royalists.
He said that in a recent conversation he claims to have had with the princess she said she was not leaving Funcinpec.
Sam Rainsy first told reporters in July of his offer to Princess Vacheara to join the party. At the time, the princess said she had promised Prince Ranariddh she would stay with Funcinpec through the 2003 elections.
“But the future will tell. We are politicians. I can’t tell you what I intend, or plan to do in one year,” she said at the time.
A July list of Funcinpec members appointed to executive positions to oversee individual provinces ahead of next year’s scheduled elections did not include Princess Vacheara. Officials named to the list often become the party’s first choice to be candidates in their province in parliamentary elections.
Following Funcinpec’s dismal showing in February’s commune council election the party’s leadership has come under heavy fire from rank and file members, and observers say its role as a coalition government partner has significantly diminished.
The party has suffered a series of public setbacks, most notably an ultimately unsuccessful bid to oust party steering committee member You Hockry from his ministerial seat.
And earlier this year Prince Norodom Chakrapong formed his own political party ahead of the elections, claiming to also be drawing away disillusioned royalists.
(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)