Vowing ever closer cooperation with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP but also a fresh start for the beleaguered Funcinpec party, Prince Norodom Ranariddh was on Monday again elected as the royalist party’s president at a special congress on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island.
The event had the feeling of an awkward family reunion as leaders of the once influential party, which was founded as an armed resistance in 1981, lined up on stage behind the man they dethroned as president in 2006 after he had a falling out with Mr. Hun Sen.
About 2,000 party members from Cambodia’s 24 provinces and Phnom Penh listened to Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, who became the party president in 2007, extol the virtues of her elder half-brother and endorse his return as president.
“The return of Prince Norodom Ranariddh to lead Funcinpec is because his return is a symbol of the gathering that we have been seeking for a long time—of the royalists and Sihanoukists under the Funcinpec of the King Father,” Princess Arunrasmey said, referring to the late King Norodom Sihanouk, who founded the party.
Rising to the podium, Prince Ranariddh, who won the 1993 U.N.-run elections but was ousted as prime minister in 1997 by armed forces loyal to Mr. Hun Sen, said that as leader, he would promote change but steer away from mounting the kind of street protests used by the opposition CNRP.
“The King Father said to gather the royalist forces to unite with another national force, which is the CPP. He added that the CPP is led by Prime Minister Hun Sen,” the prince said.
“I ask the congress to choose this second way that belongs to the King Father,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh also made light of some of the tensions inside the royal family, calling on Prince Sisowath Sirirath, who has publicly opposed his return to the party, to stand up from his seat on the stage and bow.
“Prince Sisowath Sirirath, we know each other well. Why have you not dyed your hair black? I have not dyed [my hair] either, and have the same white hair, and thank you for coming today,” Prince Ranariddh said. “We are two who have the same white hair, while the princesses are beautiful and my princes are not bad.”
Funcinpec currently has no seats in the National Assembly or the Senate, having lost its last two parliamentary seats in the 2013 national election.
Yet a number of former senior party members continue to hold prominent positions in other parties, including Sun Chanthol, the commerce minister, and Mu Sochua, the CNRP’s public affairs director.
Ms. Sochua defected to the opposition in 2004 and Mr. Chanthol defected to the CPP in 2009. Funcinpec has not provided a cabinet minister since the 2008 election.
Prince Ranariddh said he would send a letter to Mr. Hun Sen requesting that Funcinpec be allowed to retake some of the positions it held in the past, including some of the deputy provincial governor posts.
“The deputy governors, that was the government’s right, and it has just removed them,” Prince Ranariddh said, explaining that he would now ask for their reinstatement.
“I have told [a Funcinpec official] to send me the list, and I, Norodom Ranariddh, will make a list and ask the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen to put it into the framework of the Interior Ministry and government,” he said.
From the stage, Princess Arunrasmey, who was named first vice president of the party, looked on alongside a bevy of senior party officials, including her husband, Keo Puth Rasmey, who replaced Prince Ranariddh as party president when he was ousted in 2006.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, the party’s secretary-general who engineered the prince’s 2006 ouster, also watched proceedings from the stage, and was seated alongside Ouk Phalla, the second wife of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Mr. Bun Chhay was named Funcinpec’s second vice president at the congress.
In a press conference following the event, Prince Ranariddh criticized the opposition, slamming CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha for saying on Sunday that his return was akin to the CPP retrieving old food that it had wrapped in a banana leaf and thrown into the trash.
“If I were His Excellency Kem Sokha, I would think about more than banana leaves. It is my party, and it’s up to that party,” he said, describing the CNRP as a collection of detritus gathered together by Mr. Sokha.
“He somehow managed to gather a party together from the broken-up pieces in France, U.S. and Cambodia,” he said. “It is a waste of time to talk about bananas.”
Prince Ranariddh also told the gathered reporters that he would never join with the opposition CNRP.
Prince Sirirath suggested late last year that elements of the Funcinpec leadership were considering abandoning the CPP for the CNRP.
“Do you want me to go a party that wants to introduce a republic? That would be like using a knife to cut my own neck,” Prince Ranariddh said. “I will not. Anyone who wants to die, let them go, but I will not go.”