Prince Norodom Ranariddh opened the latest chapter in his topsy-turvy political career Sunday with the official launch of the Community of Royalist People Party (CRPP), warning that the upsurge in support for the opposition CNRP threatened the monarchy.
Claiming that his own absence from politics had contributed significantly to the growing support for the opposition, Prince Ranariddh said that CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, if voted to power, would overturn the country’s constitutional order.
“It is the right of Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Sam Rainsy to love another regime, but most Khmer people strongly love the royalist regime,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters following a closed-door speech to an audience of 200 who gathered at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel.
“I dare say that at this time that the royalist regime will end if [Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha] rule the country,” Prince Ranariddh continued, without explaining how exactly such a thing would happen.
“These individuals never talk about [the monarchy] in name…but in order to attract more support from royalist groups, they say they officially promise to maintain the royalist regime,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh, 70-years-old and re-entering politics for the third time since being ousted as the leader of the Funcinpec party in 2006, denied the commonly held view that he is in league, once again, with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP to draw support away from the opposition using his Royal credentials.
“Not only the people, but also His Excellency Sam Rainsy said that I am entering politics this time to split the [opposition] voice,” Prince Ranariddh admitted.
Prince Ranariddh, who previously served as the Funcinpec first prime minister between 1993 and 1997, and then National Assembly president as a coalition partner with the CPP from 1998 to 2006, surprised few by offering no criticism Sunday of Mr. Hun Sen or other ruling party officials. The prince denied any contact with the ruling party.
“Firstly, I have never communicated with the CPP even a little,” he said. “Secondly, I would like say that it will be very insignificant if I only want to split the [opposition] voice as my objective.”
The prince said that his purpose for returning to politics was to reunite the country’s remaining royalists, a task that he said is beyond the ability of the current leaders of the Funcinpec party.
“Nhiek Bun Chhay and [Princess Norodom] Arunrasmey have no capacity to gather [supporters] to form a real national team for solving national problems,” Prince Ranariddh said.
Princess Arunrasmey, Prince Ranariddh’s half-sister, was named president of Funcinpec prior to July’s national election, in which the party won no seats in the National Assembly.
Mr. Bun Chhay, a former Funcinpec general, engineered the ousting of Prince Ranariddh from the nominally royalist party and is currently secretary-general of the party and a deputy prime minister in Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet.
During Sunday’s ceremony at Sunway Hotel, Prince Ranariddh unfurled the CRPP’s logo, which features the initials “NR” in Khmer at the center of a blue circle. The logo also includes the number 9, which represents power in Brahman tradition, and is surrounded by yellow, white and green circles, which represent the monarchy, peace and water, respectively.
Prince Ranariddh said that his new party would not align itself with either the CPP or CNRP, but quickly added: “I will not hesitate to align with the party that, along with me, will protect the supreme interests of the country.”
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a longtime secretary to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk who ran as a CNRP candidate for Parliament in July’s election, said that Prince Ranariddh’s claims against CNRP are unfounded.
“Nobody in the CNRP contests the monarchy and is against the monarchy,” Prince Thomico said, adding that the suggestion by Prince Ranariddh that a CNRP-led government would overturn the monarchy was “propaganda of the CPP.”
“We are opposing the way that the CPP is leading the country, it doesn’t mean we are opposed to the monarchy or the Constitution,” Prince Thomico said.
At the end of Sunday’s event, supporters of the newly formed CRPP, who had been transported to Phnom Penh from throughout the country, were given envelopes filled with cash and then treated to a buffet lunch in the hotel.
Noranarith Anandayath, chief of Prince Ranariddh’s cabinet, said that the event was paid for by the prince, but said he didn’t know how much it cost.
In Sar, 66, said that he believed that Prince Ranariddh’s latest foray into politics represented a change of heart in a political career that has been mired in apparent subservience to the ruling CPP.
“The prince has changed a lot to form this new political party in order to reunite royalist supporters, serve and protect our nation,” Mr. Sar said. “I trust him 100 percent.”
Pon Chantha, 21, who was one of only a few young supporters in the mostly middle-aged audience, said that she believed that Prince Ranariddh could still attract voters frustrated by the ongoing dispute between the CPP and CNRP.
“There is a political deadlock in our country, so if the CPP and CNRP can’t solve the problem, perhaps the people will turn their attention to him,” she said.