The future of royalist politics is uncertain after Sunday’s meager election results for Funcinpec, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, party officials said Monday.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, whose SJF as of Monday had not won a single commune council position in any of the 100 communes where it fielded candidates, said his primary objective ahead of the 2008 national elections is to unify the three royalist parties.
“This is my top priority,” he said, adding that he believes Funcinpec is “keen on getting united as well.”
Prince Thomico said he believes the SJF, which was officially registered in November 2006, will gain increasing popularity over time. But he also said that he is concerned about the future of royalists in Cambodian politics.
“We have to get united again,” he added.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said that his party—which according to unofficial results Monday was heading only two of the country’s 1,621 communes—had not yet made any decisions regarding its future.
Despite its apparently poor performance, Funcinpec remains the CPP’s minor coalition partner in government.
According to preliminary results, Funcinpec lost about half of the commune council seats it won in 2002 and eight commune chief positions, Nouv Sovathero said. Funcinpec officials comprised nearly 20 percent of the commune councils and headed 10 communes after the first commune elections in 2002.
Funcinpec has been in turmoil since the controversial ousting of Prince Norodom Ranariddh as its long-term leader during a hastily convened party congress in October.
Funcinpec membership all over the country has been affected by the “reform” that took place in Funcinpec on Oct 18, Nouv Sovathero said.
“We must accept that the reform must have some negative and some positive results,” he said.
Funcinpec now needs to pause and evaluate its strategy and to get in touch with supporters at the grassroots level, Nouv Sovathero said. He added that he believes royalist supporters who followed Prince Ranariddh to the NRP will defect back to Funcinpec before national elections in 2008.
Funcinpec has learned a “valuable lesson” from the commune elections, Nouv Sovathero added.
“We must prepare ourselves…. We must sit down and listen” to Funcinpec supporters and officials at the local level, he added.
Though the NRP reported Sunday evening that it might have won three communes, NRP spokesman Muth Channtha said Monday that the NRP may have in fact won only one commune chief position in Banteay Meanchey province. The NRP is still waiting for final results, he added.
Muth Channtha said that the NRP will not unite with Funcinpec, which he called a “dying party.”
“But we will accept Funcinpec members and supporters to our party,” he said, adding that banding together with the SJF is a possibility.
Muth Channtha said the NRP would have won more votes if Prince Ranariddh, who was sentenced in absentia March 13 to 18 months in prison for breach of contract, had been able to return to Cambodia to campaign.
Mar Sophal, monitoring officer with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said royalist supporters appear to be split between Funcinpec and the NRP, and that some rural voters are still genuinely confused about which party Prince Ranariddh heads.
Funcinpec has human resources, but the NRP has Prince Ranariddh, and will likely take more votes away from Funcinpec in the future, he added.
But it will be difficult for either party to gain many seats in the National Assembly in 2008, Mar Sophal said, adding that all opposition parties should band together if they want to seriously challenge the CPP’s leadership.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that no matter how few votes Funcinpec turns out to have won Sunday, it will remain as a partner in the coalition government.
“I feel pity for Funcinpec for getting few votes. But this is a commune election, so it doesn’t affect the government. Only the national election can decide,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara.)