Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Tuesday said opposition leader Sam Rainsy appeared ready to join a new government, which on Monday moved a step closer to forming after a deal inked by the royalist leader and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I can say the Sam Rainsy Party is seemingly about to agree to join the membership of the new royal government,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters after meeting with the opposition leader at the prince’s residence in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district.
Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that the Alliance of Democrats, made up of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, remains “firm.” At his party’s headquarters Tuesday morning, he said he was “proud” that Prince Ranariddh had kept the Alliance’s principles.
In a bid to end the eight-month political deadlock, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen agreed Monday evening to create a coalition government that would allow Funcinpec to share some of its government positions with the opposition.
Royalist officials called the
proposed setup a “two-and-a-half party” government.
The agreement came after months of resistance from Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats, who had vowed only to join a three-party government, as outlined in a
Nov 5 meeting chaired by King Norodom Sihanouk.
Prince Ranariddh on Tuesday said he explained his decision to Sam Rainsy and the two had reached an understanding.
But, when asked how the new deal compared with the Nov 5 agreement, the prince said, “I dare not say this is better.”
Shortly after the late afternoon meeting, the prince left his house to return to the wedding celebration of the son of CPP co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and the daughter of CPP RCAF commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan.
Sam Rainsy, who was not invited to the wedding, left the prince’s residence with little to say.
“[The meeting with Prince Ranariddh] has made me understand his feeling and he also understands me clearly,” Sam Rainsy said, though he declined to say whether he would join the next government under the terms of the new agreement.
Asked whether Tuesday’s meeting could be the last for the Alliance leaders, Sam Rainsy said: “No, not at all. As I have said, the Alliance of Democrats is getting more firm.”
He did not elaborate.
Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay said Tuesday the Alliance had missed its opportunity to form a three-party government, saying its failure to cooperate after the Nov 5 meeting caused the CPP to change its mind and demand a two-party government.
“If there had not been any confusion created by some people, everything would have gone smoothly as expected,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.
At Funcinpec’s headquarters on Tuesday, many applauded Prince Ranariddh’s agreement with the prime minister, happy that the political impasse may soon end.
“It’s not really perfect, but Cambodia cannot permit to not have a legal government for too long,” said former Funcinpec parliamentarian Dien Del.
“In politics, politicians should make some compromises,” he said, adding “the door is open to the Sam Rainsy Party.”
Royalist Senator Khieu San agreed, saying the new scenario was “not good, but fair.”
“If we’re stuck here [in a prolonged deadlock], we’re going to die,” he said.
Some Funcinpec members, however, wondered whether the deal would spell an end to the Alliance.
“It’s a very crucial crossing point here. The question is whether Sam Rainsy will continue with the Alliance,” said one party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I feel sorry for the prince to have to make this decision, but we support him,” the official said. “One can only imagine the heartache and pain of our colleagues in the Alliance of Democrats.”
Across town at the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters, opposition members and supporters gathered Tuesday morning for an hourlong meeting, behind closed doors. Funcinpec Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua was also at the headquarters.
Later, many said it was too early to gauge the implications of Monday’s agreement, and whether they would accept it.
“I am waiting for more explanation,” said opposition parliamentarian Chea Poch.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ngor Sovann said: “I think it is up to the party’s leader whether he wants to send [our] members to join the government. Personally, I think I will participate in the government in order to serve the country.”
After Monday’s talks, CPP and Funcinpec officials said two working groups, consisting of CPP and royalist members, would soon begin discussing details of the leadership and platforms for the new National Assembly and government.
The groups will include Funcinpec officials Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Lu Laysreng, Nhiek Bun Chhay, Kong Vibol, and Sun Chanthol. The CPP officials will include Say Chhum, Sar Kheng, Sok An, Tea Banh and Im Chhun Lim.
According to CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith, some of the details have already been approved by both parties.
They agreed that all co-minister positions would be eliminated, and that Funcinpec will retain its current ministries, with the exception of the Information Ministry, which will go to the CPP.
He added that the parties agreed that only elected parliamentarians could qualify for government positions, such as ministers and secretaries of state.
“Sam Rainsy can enter the government through Funcinpec’s door,” he said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, some Phnom Penh residents said they were disappointed with Funcinpec for agreeing to such a deal.
“Before, when the two parties worked together, they brought nothing better as the people had expected…. If Sam Rainsy is allowed to join the government, he deserves to get full membership, not half,” said Pol Sovann, a 25-year-old cyclo driver, adding that Prince Ranariddh’s leadership has led to a steady decline in Funcinpec’s popularity at the polls.
He added: “I prefer to see [Sam Rainsy] as the opposition because if he’s getting half-status from the government, surely he will not get enough power to make a difference.”
Kov Sam Ang, 35, a Cintri worker, said she hoped the Sam Rainsy Party would join the government.
“I want the three parties to work together…to develop the country,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren, Wency Leung, and Luke Reynolds)