In an emergency meeting Thursday evening, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh made a plea to royalist lawmakers not to boycott today’s National Assembly vote on five appointees to an overhauled National Election Committee.
Funcinpec legislator Ok Socheat said the prince claimed the NEC must be approved in order to secure international funding for the July 2003 general elections.
The new NEC is meant to replace a government election body that critics say was bloated—the previous incarnation had 11 members, some from nonexistent political parties—and biased toward the ruling CPP.
But the composition of the newest NEC—five “dignitaries” from Cambodian society—has come under fire because its members have been chosen by the Ministry of Interior and are intended to go uncontested before the Assembly.
The call to boycott today’s vote was first made by the Sam Rainsy Party, and soon spread to Funcinpec’s ranks, signaling a further erosion of Prince Ranariddh’s power over his lawmakers.
The prince asked the 30 lawmakers who showed up at Thursday’s meeting to have “discipline” and vote for the NEC, but he has had to battle sometimes openly critical legislators and the needling of opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
“For many Funcinpec and SRP parliamentarians, the only way to prevent the CPP from manipulating the NEC and distorting the will of the people at the 2003 legislative election is to boycott tomorrow’s Assembly session,” Sam Rainsy wrote in an Oct 24 open letter to the prince.
Ok Socheat said Thursday he will show up at the Assembly today but will not vote, saying, “I do not believe the new president will do justice to the elections.”
Outspoken Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara also said Thursday she was not happy with the proposed NEC, but would not say if she will boycott the vote.
She said she feared that, despite a Funcinpec boycott, the CPP might still have enough lawmakers present to have a quorum, repelling attempts to derail the NEC vote.
And while a lot of attention has been paid to the NEC nominees, Princess Vacheara said, “The composition is not important. More importantly, how well can we follow the implementation of the NEC—will they be independent or not?”
One of the proposed NEC’s biggest critics, Funcinpec Assembly member Keo Remy, was not at Thursday‘s meeting. Though he claimed to be ill, some saw this as the lawmaker‘s open defiance of the prince, who has been at odds with Keo Remy for months.
But far from attacking Keo Remy, who is reportedly going to leave Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh praised the lawmaker for his previous recommended changes to the NEC selection process.
Ok Socheat said the prince called Keo Remy a legislator who is popular with the people, and urged other Funcinpec lawmakers not to provoke him into leaving the party.
Sam Rainsy has laid claim to numerous Funcinpec members he said will defect to the opposition, though Keo Remy remains silent on the issue and Princess Vacheara has denied that she is joining Sam Rainsy’s ranks.