Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye. But sitting in the splendor of the government villa he must soon vacate, First Prime Minister Ung Huot bade a dignified farewell to public office, pledging to respect the will of the people and go quietly.
“I am ready and willing to accept the final results of the elections, which we hope will be processed by the National Election Committee, who will certify the election as free, fair and credible,” he told reporters at a press conference Monday, 363 days after he became first prime minister.
Asked how he felt about relinquishing the post, Ung Huot replied: “I feel sad.” But, he added, “I am a democrat, I accept the will of the people. This is democracy.”
Ung Huot also said he wished to dispel rumors, springing from his recent low profile, that he had left the country after the polls. In the past week, Reastr Niyum has been represented by Minister of Industry Pou Sothirak at press conferences of the parties rejecting the results.
Ung Huot called on all parties Monday to accept the results of the elections but denied this constituted a change in the party’s stance.
“We did lodge a complaint of irregularities,” he said. “I demand that the National Election Committee investigate that complaint. What I am doing today is conditional on that investigation.”
Ung Huot was expelled from the Funcinpec party in August 1997, when he stood as the replacement to deposed first premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the party president.
In February this year, he relaunched himself as the president of the Reastr Niyum party, backed by several other Funcinpec deserters, including the former party secretary-general Nady Tan and Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor.
But despite a high-profile and expensive campaign, Reastr Niyum netted less than 1 percent of the vote nationwide, leaving the first prime minister without a seat in the next National Assembly.
Despite his defeat, Ung Huot pledged Monday to keep the party going and remain a political force. “The party will stay,” he insisted. “We will look at our shortfall, our strengths and weaknesses.”
And he rejected the suggestion that he had been unwise to leave Funcinpec, which went on to take second place in the polls.
“I don’t think it was a mistake,” Ung Huot said. “At the time, it was right.”
Ung Huot, who was responsible for managing Funcinpec’s victorious 1993 election campaign, denied that his marketing skills had suffered in the intervening years.
“[Reastr Niyum’s campaign] was one of the best campaigns ever seen in Cambodia,” he said. “However, we didn’t win any seats.”