Funcinpec is still the nation’s “second political force” despite the royalist party’s disappointing performance in Sunday’s commune council elections, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Monday.
“We should not analyze this as a defeat of Funcinpec,” the prince said. “Of course, I am not satisfied with the number of seats” won by the party.
Political observers said Sunday’s lukewarm Funcinpec performance—unofficial results point to CPP dominance throughout the country with Funcinpec running behind the Sam Rainsy Party in Phnom Penh and several provinces—could be seen as a warning signal concerning the party’s future viability.
Funcinpec’s “policy of passive cooperation” with the CPP and its decision to join with the CPP in a government coalition after the 1998 national elections disappointed many supporters, said Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy.
“It has been the fate of those parties who offer to align themselves with the CPP in the past to disappear,” Lao Mong Hay said.
Another observer who requested anonymity said Sunday’s poor showing was a “real warning about the political role Funcinpec plays with CPP.”
“If the party chooses the same pattern for 2003 and fails to send a clear, new message to voters, then we could see the beginning of the collapse of Funcinpec,” the observer said.
Prince Ranariddh said the party was victimized by voters who registered to vote, but did not show up at the polls. He said that more than one million voters, or about 20 percent of those who registered in August, did not turn out Sunday. Many of those votes would have been cast for Funcinpec, he said. The political observer agreed that many of these votes would have gone to Funcinpec.
The prince also alleged there was some intimidation and bribery of voters who were loyal in the past to Funcinpec.
“The vote was free? Maybe. Fair? For us, maybe not very fair,” he said.
Funcinpec was hampered by its status as a coalition partner with the CPP, which keeps it from aggressively speaking out on important issues, the prince said.
“Sam Rainsy performed very well, thanks to me, because I allow him to speak out…through the National Assembly. And in Phnom Penh, let’s say that we were victims of the coalition,” Prince Ranariddh said. “In the opposition, [Sam Rainsy] can speak loudly, and not us. We are responsible.”
Sam Rainsy, a former Funcinpec member who left to form his own party in 1995, said the country’s “political landscape changed dramatically” Sunday. He urged Funcinpec members Monday to join his party.
Responding to those remarks, Prince Ranariddh said Funcinpec continues to be bigger and more capable than the Sam Rainsy Party. He said preliminary results show Sam Rainsy did not perform well outside Phnom Penh and ran third behind Funcinpec in many provinces.
“If Sam Rainsy is willing, he can come and join us. People have to realize that the Sam Rainsy Party is not able to win over the CPP,” the prince said. “The only result the Sam Rainsy Party could obtain is to weaken Funcinpec.”
Prince Ranariddh said the party must make changes in strategy and party structure ahead of next year’s national elections. But he said he would not step down as party president. “We should not make any confusion between the popularity of Funcinpec and…the president,” he said.
Telephone calls to Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh Monday were referred to the party’s deputy secretary-general, Nhiek Bun Chhay.
In order to do well in 2003, Funcinpec will have to better explain to voters the party’s relationship with the CPP, Nhiek Bun Chhay said. It is possible that some of the people who gave Funcinpec more than 30 percent of the vote in the 1998 national elections were disappointed that the party later joined with the CPP to form a coalition, he said.
“That is one point, but it is not a big issue,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said. “People realize that Funcinpec joined with CPP for peace and stability.”
Funcinpec did not do well because they did not show the people who voted for them in 1993 and 1998 how the party remains different from the CPP, the observer said. The ambiguous reaction from top Funcinpec officials to the numerous instances of threats, intimidation and killing of their supporters in the months preceding Sunday’s election damaged confidence among Funcinpec’s traditional supporters, the observer said.