Under Pressure, Senior KNUP Officials Jump Ship to Funcinpec

Several senior officials from the embattled KNUP have defected to rival party Funcinpec, a spokesman said on Sunday, following the sacking of 12 government advisers and a warning from the ruling party that all government workers linked to KNUP leader Nhek Bun Chhay will be targeted.

Funcinpec spokesman Nhep Bunchin said on Sunday that about 10 officials on the KNUP’s steering committee had left the party last week.

“They are of the blood of the royalists and Funcinpec. That’s why they come back,” Mr. Bunchin said. “We warmly welcome them.”

KNUP, or the Khmer National United Party, was formed early last year by Mr. Bun Chhay as a breakaway from Funcinpec, which was once a major rival to the ruling CPP.

However, in the June 4 commune elections, Funcinpec failed to win a single commune, while the KNUP took one commune, the only minor party to do so.

Mr. Bunchin said Funcinpec had lost a lot of votes because of the KNUP.

Chan Nora, who had been the KNUP’s secretary-general until his defection last week, said he had joined Funcinpec so the party would be strong in next year’s national election, and because he did not know what Mr. Bun Chhay’s goals were.

Mr. Nora said he still serves as an adviser to the Agriculture Ministry.

About 100 members of the KNUP and Funcinpec have had government jobs since the 2013 national election, when Funcinpec was headed by Princess Norodom Arunrasmey.

The princess resigned as the first vice president of Funcinpec in March 2015 after her half-brother Prince Norodom Ranariddh replaced her as party president.

She led Funcinpec in the 2008 and 2013 elections in the absence of her brother, who was ousted as president in 2006.

Mr. Nora said the royalist party needed to avoid a split.

“If we are united, Funcinpec will gain votes,” he said.

Asked if more KNUP officials would jump ship, Mr. Nora said: “Please wait and see.”

Mr. Bun Chhay could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said every KNUP member with a government job would be sacked in retribution for a telephone recording obtained by Prime Minister Hun Sen that allegedly shows Mr. Bun Chhay colluding with the opposition CNRP.

Twelve government advisers were stripped of their positions in a royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on July 15, with many of them identified as allies of Mr. Bun Chhay. The former general lost his own government advisory role shortly after last month’s commune elections.

“When partners in friendship aren’t honest with each other, we must end it. It’s not strange,” Mr. Eysan said on Friday.

“There’s clear evidence. Samdech Techo Hun Sen has clear evidence,” he added. “The recorded voice is proof that [Mr. Bun Chhay] told his officials to vote for the opposition.”

The recording is said to be of Mr. Bun Chhay placing a call to CNRP Vice President Eng Chhay Eang and offering his support for the main opposition party.

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