F’pec Officials Dissent Over Appointment

Voicing unprecedented dissent, senior Funcinpec officials spoke out in criticism of their embattled party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Thursday, as a party rift widened over Prince Rana­riddh’s nomination of Prince Noro­dom Chakrapong as Funcinpec’s new secretary-general.

Funcinpec Deputy Prime Min­ister Nhiek Bun Chhay an­nounced that he had put his own name forward for the party’s second-highest post, and called Prince Chakrapong’s appointment un­­­acceptable.

Nhiek Bun Chhay said by telephone Wednesday that he had asked Prince Ranariddh not to an­nounce the selection of his half-brother Prince Chakrapong, “be­cause the majority of party members cannot accept [him].

“I and most members see Chak­rapong as an unqualified person, with an unpleasant image, to lead the party,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.

He and other Funcinpec veterans called for reform and internal elections in the party, which ap­pears to be in disarray after weeks of harsh public criticism from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The crisis coalesced on March 2, when Nhiek Bun Chhay was dismissed from his post as co-minister of defense, along with Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who was co-minister of interior. The following day, Prince Ranariddh stepped down from the presidency of the National Assembly.

“There are reasons Chakra­pong is not qualified for the post,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said. “Firstly, in 1992, he led Sihanoukists to join the Cambodian People’s Party. Se­condly, he led a secessionist move­­­ment to oppose the Funcin­pec victory in the 1993 election. And thirdly, he set up his own par­ty, [the Chakrapong Khmer Spirit Party, in 2002], insulting and at­tacking Funcinpec.”

“There are other problems,” Nhiek Bun Chhay added, without ela­borating.

Nhiek Bun Chhay named Fun­cin­pec’s Deputy Premier Lu Lay­sreng and senior minister You Hok­ry as two other possible candidates for secretary-general.

You Hokry could not be contacted on Thursday. Lu Laysreng said he would not run for secretary-gen­eral, but criticized Prince Ran­ariddh’s selection of his half-brother.

“[Prince Chakrapong] was not hon­est to the Funcinpec party and we should not allow him to serve the party in that big position,” Lu Lay­­sreng said. “The prince is a good friend of mine, but politically, we cannot accept him because he comes in and out of the party. He used to curse the party.”

Prince Chakrapong, who was also named Senate first deputy pres­ident by Prince Ranariddh this year, said by telephone that he is fully qualified to take the secretary-general post. “If we respect the [party] president, we should follow his decision,” he said.

Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San said Prince Ranariddh’s resignation from the Assembly presidency was meant to allow him to at­tend to just such party reforms.

He said the prince had also named four deputy secretary-generals: current deputy secretary-general Chhim Seak Leng, senior party member Ung Huot, former defense co-minister Tea Cham­rath and Senate second deputy president Por Bunsroeu.

Nhiek Bun Chhay also said that in the next few days the steering committee, Funcinpec’s top body, will be pared down from 210 to 39 members.

“There are a lot of unhappy people right now, after Prince Ran­ariddh resigned,” royalist Senator Prince Sisowath Sirirath said.

“People have always looked to him. If he wants to change and re­form the party, we must have the election of people at the leadership level,” he said. “The party is in disarray…. My feeling is that since 1998, Prince Ran­ariddh is not surrounded by qual­ified and able people.”

He said, “For the sake of national reconciliation of course everyone should be welcomed by the party, but it does not mean that, having left the party once, that you should be able to come back and go to the top. You have to line up.”

He added that defections from Funcinpec could ensue.

Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an open invitation to unhappy Funcinpec members to join the CPP. But Nhiek Bun Chhay and others said they have no plans to take up the offer. CPP officials would not say Thursday whether they were in discussion with any potential de­fectors.

“It is an internal affair of Fun­cin­pec,” Council of Ministers Secre­tary of State Prak Sokhon said.

“I think the prince still has control of his party. All I can tell you is that the stance of the prime minister is to have a coalition government with Funcinpec until the end of the mandate.”

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay called the grumbling of dissent within Funcinpec a poor sign for Prince Ranariddh’s party. He noted that his own party has had to postpone the selection of its secretary-general until December, in order to ensure that the process will be democratic.

“The appointment of the secretary-general of the party, and the appointment of the second speaker in the parliament have to be done in a way that the party members and party leaders are satisfied with it,” Son Chhay said, noting that Funcinpec’s worries appear to be multiplying.

“I worry that the party might be breaking apart,” he said.

 

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