Prince Norodom Sirivudh has resigned as acting president of Funcinpec, a move that effectively handed control of the party over to newly appointed Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay and fueled reports on Wednesday that the royalists are convulsed by infighting.
On the heels of the National Assembly’s vote on Tuesday to remove both his co-minister of interior and deputy prime minister posts, Prince Sirivudh asked Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh to accept his resignation as acting party president.
“To allow the new secretary-general [to] start his work, I would like to ask your permission to resign,” Prince Sirivudh wrote in a letter to Prince Ranariddh on Tuesday.
Prince Sirivudh could not be reached for comment.
Funcinpec officials said that Prince Sirivudh and Nhiek Bun Chhay had little affection for each other and were unable to work together.
While Prince Sirivudh lost his post as deputy prime minister after just 17 out of 111 lawmakers voted for him to keep the position, Nhiek Bun Chhay was re-elected to his deputy prime minister post with 106 of the 111 available votes.
Funcinpec officials were among those who did not vote for the prince, CPP officials said after the poll.
Nhiek Bun Chhay said he was too busy to comment when contacted by telephone.
Prince Sirivudh’s sister and Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara said Funcinpec has fractured, with royal family members on one side and non-royal party members on the other.
“Funcinpec members should not have attacked each other. We would be better supporting each other during this time. I have never seen this happen in other parties,” she said.
Princess Vacheara said that criticism of her brother from some quarters in Funcinpec was unwarranted, and noted that Prince Sirivudh had not enriched himself from his work, as some ministers have done.
Lu Laysreng, also a Funcinpec deputy prime minister, said Prince Sirivudh had lost the support of the party because he had made questionable appointments.
Lu Laysreng denied rumors that Prince Ranariddh’s wife, Princess Marie, could take over the presidency of the embattled party from her husband, who left for France last week after resigning as Assembly president.
Ranariddh stepped down after suffering weeks of veiled and overt attacks by Prime Minister Hun Sen on issues ranging from extra-marital affairs to excessive spending on government trips.
“Prince Ranariddh’s presidency is not in question,” Lu Laysreng said. “He is the historic leader.”
But Funcinpec’s power in government continued to diminish on Wednesday.
In one of his first decisions as newly-elected CPP President of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin announced Wednesday that Funcinpec’s Assembly Secretary-General Kim San was being replaced by the CPP’s Leng Penglong, who was secretary of state at the Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspection.
Heng Samrin also announced that two of the four Assembly commissions headed by Funcinpec had been given to the Sam Rainsy Party. The move leaves the CPP at the head of five of the nine commissions and Funcinpec and the opposition with two commission chairmanships each.
The number of lawmakers appointed to each commission was also increased from seven to nine, with the two additional positions going to the opposition.
Unfazed by his removal from heading the commission on economy, planning, investment and agriculture, Funcinpec’s Ly Thuch said the decision was the will of the ruling CPP.
“CPP has the right to share power,” Ly Thuch said, adding that he wasn’t concerned about the loss of his chairmanship, as he had served the government for a long time already.
The commission’s new chairman, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann, said Funcinpec was in no position to complain. “Funcinpec had no choice,” he said after the Assembly meeting. “The 50-percent-plus-one [formula] means there is no need for Funcinpec.”
In an apparent move to mitigate the impact of Funcinpec’s loss of its two co-minister positions, which were first agreed to following the first Funcinpec-CPP coalition government in 1993, the Assembly also voted to add a further Funcinpec secretary of state post to the ministries of interior and defense.
Tor Soeuth and Hun Phoeung, Funcinpec members known to be close to Nhiek Bun Chhay, were voted into the new positions.
The new appointments were criticized by opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eng, who said they were just another financial burden on the state.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng said no new jobs were created, as the stripping of Funcinpec’s co-ministers had left two positions for the royalists. “It is just to fill the vacancies,” Sar Kheng said.