Prince Sisowath Thomico formally joined the Norodom Ranariddh Party on Sunday, urging the SRP and Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party to join a royalist-orientated political alliance to compete against the CPP in the 2008 national election.
More than 200 members of Prince Thomico’s Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party raised their hands in support of a merger with the NRP during a congress at the SJF’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district. Prince Thomico will serve as the NRP’s second vice president, officials said.
NRP President Prince Norodom Ranariddh applauded Prince Thomico’s decision in a pre-recorded speech from Kuala Lumpur that was broadcast on a large television screen during the event.
“I give thanks for the decision. The action responds to the needs of the people,” Prince Ranariddh said, adding that the merger will help Cambodia.
Prince Ranariddh then urged Funcinpec members to jump ship to the NRP.
“Democrats, those who love freedom and royalists [should] participate in a movement to stop royalist voices from splitting,” he said.
The prince also dismissed his March conviction in absentia by Phnom Penh Municipal Court to 18 months in jail over the sale of Funcinpec’s headquarters.
“I hope King Norodom Sihamoni will give me justice so I can return to the country,” he said of his hopes to be granted royal amnesty.
Prince Thomico told the congress that the alliance will “build a new country” if it is elected to power.
He added he will first ask Funcinpec to join the alliance, and will then approach the SRP and Kem Sokha’s new Human Rights Party.
Despite the merger, the SJF will remain in existence in case the government blocks the NRP from competing in the elections, Prince Thomico said.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said he would welcome general discussions with the NRP, though he added that Funcinpec does not want to form an alliance with any party other than its coalition government partner the CPP.
Officials said Thursday that Funcinpec had pledged to try to secure political amnesty for Prince Ranariddh if he disbands the NRP and reassumes his position as Funcinpec historical leader.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said he would welcome further discussions with the NRP about a political alliance.
But Sam Rainsy also claimed that NRP and Funcinpec members are already defecting to his party on a daily basis.
“People at the grassroots level lost confidence in Funcinpec and they also lost confidence in Prince Norodom Ranariddh because he could not return to Cambodia,” Sam Rainsy said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the CPP welcomes new parties because they encourage ruling party officials to work harder. The CPP already has its own alliance with more than 30 smaller political parties, he added.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap also said he was unfazed by any possible opposition alliance.
“The CPP is the party that always wins the elections,” he said, noting that the NRP did not win a single commune chief position in the April 1 commune elections.
“People trust the government’s policy, that’s why they voted for us,” Cheam Yeap said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said a royalist-orientated opposition alliance could theoretically pose a major electoral threat to the CPP. But he expressed doubt that such an alliance would have enough time to gain the momentum needed to seriously challenge the CPP in next year’s election.