Former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh made his return to the political stage official on Saturday, taking the helm of the newly dubbed Norodom Ranariddh Party and calling for a merger with Funcinpec, the party that ousted him in 2006, and an alliance with the ruling CPP.
At a special congress of the Nationalist Party in Phnom Penh, the prince accepted its presidency moments after the party voted to rename itself after him. It was previously known as the Norodom Ranariddh Party until June 2009, when it changed its name after the prince’s ostensible retirement from politics in October 2008.
“I am happy to become president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party,” Prince Ranariddh said to a cheering room of more than 400 supporters. “There were nearly 200,000 party members who wrote to me to return and lead the party. I give thanks for all the supporters from across the country.”
He then called on the NRP to merge with Funcinpec?which ousted him as president in 2006 over fraud allegations?to form a brand new party, Funcinpec 81.
The NRP and Funcinpec currently hold a total of four seats in the 123-seat National Assembly.
“I think if the royalist nationalists merge, they will not win only four seats like this,” he assured the crowd. “I have told the congress to merge as soon as possible.”
Prince Ranariddh also said he planned to seek an alliance with the CPP and laid out a few of his priorities.
“My plan is to join with the government to solve the problems. We would make our requests directly to the government on border disputes, illegal immigration and corruption,” he said. “We can do anything when the new Funcinpec 81 gets lots of seats in the Assembly and joins with the ruling party. We could join together to solve the problems nationwide.”
“We have to take the middle way,” the prince added, calling the opposition SRP ineffective for playing the perpetual antagonist.
Drawing on a football metaphor to describe the 18-month jail term he received for a fraud charge in 2007, however, the prince also conceded to some fear of the premier.
“I do not want to play with Prime Minister Hun Sen, because he gave me a red card for 18 months,” he said. “Sam Rainsy got a red card for 12 years. I am very afraid of the red card and do not want it again.”
Prince Ranariddh was charged in absentia and later received a pardon.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap yesterday declined to comment on any possible alliance with the prince, but warned that any immediate merger between Funcinpec and the NRP was legally out of the question.
By merging now, he explained, both parties would forfeit their seats and drop the National Assembly below its 120-seat threshold.
“There are four seats that would be lost from the Assembly if Funcinpec and the NRP merged, and there must be at least 120 seats,” he said.
Mr Yeap said the parties could only merge a few months ahead of the 2012 commune elections.
For his part, Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey yesterday welcomed the idea of a merger with the NRP and said he told Prince Ranariddh himself as much over dinner earlier this month. But Mr Puth Rasmey said he was still waiting on an official proposal from the prince and that it would need the approval of his party’s congress.
“The prince requested this, but it is not official yet,” he said.