National Assembly and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s speech before party loyalists on Tuesday had all the makings of a run-of-the-mill political pep talk, except for one small detail: Next to every member of the audience was a brand new motorbike or battery-powered bicycle.
Some of the bicycles sported license plates and baskets with the prince’s initials.
The recipients of the 54 motorbikes and 84 battery-powered bicycles—most of them mid-level Funcinpec military officials from far-flung provinces—listened from their blue plastic chairs as Prince Ranariddh spoke about the appointment of Funcinpec officials to government positions, blasted opposition leader Sam Rainsy and criticized US President George W Bush for not caring about Cambodia.
“Bush has never lost any sleep over our issues,” Prince Ranariddh claimed, warning audience members at Funcinpec headquarters not to become “followers” of US power.
He also accused the US of abandoning Cambodia during the Vietnamese occupation.
“The US never gave us bullets,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh again repeated allegations that Sam Rainsy is “not democratic” and implied that his motivations for fleeing the country were unseemly.
“He pokes his hand in the affairs of others and then flees the country,” he said, boasting that if Funcinpec leaders had behaved in the same way, they would not have been able to secure so many government positions for their supporters.
“Twenty-four seats gets the Sam Rainsy Party zero [government positions],” he said. “We have 26 and get almost half [the government positions].”
Ranariddh also repeated earlier comments that appointments for about 500 promised government positions for Funcinpec officials would soon be made. Some observers have said the appointments have been delayed because CPP officials are jockeying for the slots earmarked for Funcinpec.
Prince Ranariddh said Prime Minister Hun Sen had told him to make the appointments soon and worry later about CPP officials sneaking into positions. If CPP officials do take positions reserved for Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh said, they will be promptly removed.
Prince Ranariddh also praised co-Minister of National Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay for successfully lobbying for appointments for Funcinpec officials within the Ministry of Defense, and pushing other top-level Funcinpec officials to follow his example.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, who also spoke at the event, said he, Funcinpec and others in the Ministry of Defense had worked together to pay for the bikes.
The motorbikes cost $630 each and the bicycles $280, Nhiek Bun Chhay said. The event marked the third time the party has handed out bicycles and motorbikes to party supporters. About 200 motorbikes and 100 bicycles have been given away so far, he said.
The new two-wheeled transport was for the use of military units, not individual officers, the officials stressed.
Funcinpec Lieutenant Colonel Ream Lima, deputy commander of Koh Kong province, said he would accept the bike but that his unit did not need it.
“I will return it to my commander to give to those in need,” he said.
Lieutenant Khieu Yong, from the Technical Office of RCAF, said the gift was welcome.
“My unit is in need,” he said. “It is good to get a battery-powered bicycle because the price of gas is rising.”
After applause for the prince’s speech died down, the noise of revving engines echoed through the room as supporters bowed once more to their leader and then hit the road.