Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the embattled royalist party, resigned as National Assembly president on Friday, a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen fired both of Funcinpec’s senior ministers of Defense and Interior.
Prince Ranariddh, whose party and officials have been under vigorous verbal attack from Hun Sen for weeks on issues as diverse as incompetence, nepotism and extra-marital affairs, tended his resignation in a letter to CPP and Senate President Chea Sim and Hun Sen.
The 62-year-old prince has held the post of National Assembly president since Funcinpec brokered its second coalition government with the CPP in 1998. The first CPP-Funcinpec coalition government formed in 1993 ended after armed battles between troops loyal to Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh in 1997.
Funcinpec lawmaker Khek Vandy said the letter was also sent to King Norodom Sihamoni.
“Maybe the Prince’s resignation may come from what has happened to him lately. Some people repeatedly cursed him. But I don’t know if the King has accepted it or not,” he said.
On Thursday, Funcinpec lawmakers and political observers were overtaken by Hun Sen’s surprise announcement that he had fired Prince Norodom Sirivudh, co-minister of interior, and Nhiek Bun Chhay, co-minister of defense.
Hun Sen also declared that the long-standing political appointment quota system, that had ensured a mix of CPP and Funcinpec officials in all areas of political life, was over.
Political observes noted that Thursday’s vote by the Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow a government form with 50 percent plus one of parliamentary seats, undid the need for the CPP to form coalitions with Funcinpec.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the prince resigned to be nearer to his supporters.
CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin, who was first vice-president of the Assembly, will replace the prince and senior CPP lawmaker Ngong Nhel will be promoted to first vice president, Khieu Kanharith said, adding that the second vice president’s post will be given to Funcinpec.
“The CPP’s stance toward Funcinpec remains the same; we are supportive of Funcinpec, which is led by Prince Ranariddh,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh wrote in his resignation letter: “To strengthen and foster the Funcinpec party, I would like to have the understanding of both Samdechs in allowing me to resign.”
Reaction from Funcinpec lawmakers to the news of the resignation was as muted as reaction to the firing of Prince Sirivudh and Nhiek Bun Chhay was Thursday.
“In my heart the prince is still a good leader of the National Assembly,” royalist parliamentarian Monh Saphann said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the lack of checks on the CPP are worrying.
“The 50 plus one vote is a big risk for the opposition party if checks and balances are not provided in the new National Assembly,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay also expressed deep concern.
“Politicians have rushed to untie the hands of dictators by amending the Constitution to facilitate the formation of a new government with an absolute majority,” he wrote in an email.
“The need for such an amendment contradicts the recent repeated claim of national reconciliation and compromise.”