At first glance, one might perceive Princess Vacheara Dumont as a reluctant candidate.
After all, she agreed to run for a National Assembly seat in Siem Reap only after her brother Prince Norodom Sirivudh pressured her to do so.
But Friday, the more Princess Vacheara spoke, the more committed she sounded. For example, the Funcinpec candidate talked passionately about giving families the means to improving their lives and about removing the fear of violence in Cambodia.
“I come because I have my own ideas…and it’s my duty,” she said in an interview at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel. “My brother’s problem is another problem.”
Prince Sirivudh fled Cambodia in December 1995 and was convicted in absentia two months later for plotting to kill Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. He was sentenced to 10 years in a trial that legal experts characterized as politically motivated and unfair.
King Norodom Sihanouk forwarded the prince’s request for an amnesty to Hun Sen about two months ago, Princess Vacheara said, but Hun Sen isn’t expected to act on it before the July polls.
Princess Vacheara, who has been living in France, visited Cambodia for the first time in 32 years in March 1997. Last week, she was back for what she said was the second time since the fighting last July.
“I had planned to do something [for] Prince Ranariddh for a few months, I told myself I had to do something…but that was just an idea,” she said. “To tell you the truth, my brother pushed me, pushed me very hard.”
She acknowledged that Funcinpec’s internal problems and loss of staff also prompted her to run for a political office for the first time in her life.
Princess Vacheara said she wants children to grow up as she did in Cambodia: Without the fear of violence or the fear of stepping on land mines. “Before 1970, people weren’t scared. My impression now is that people are scared.”
Besides providing political stability, Princess Vacheara said the solution is to provide people the means to improve their lives. In Siem Reap, the tourism development is obviously one such way.
Princess Vacheara said she is not afraid to run “because I didn’t come here to criticize or attack another party,” but instead to talk about democracy and freedom.
She said she chose Siem Reap in part because of its ties to the monarchy. She said she believes Cambodians still desire a monarchy because they see the King as a unifying agent and protectorate of the people.
Princess Vacheara recently asked for an audience with the King as a half-sister, not a politician. But she said a staff member canceled the meeting at the last minute, citing “big problems.” She did not elaborate.
The princess said there is no specific time frame for Funcinpec, which is part of the four-party National United Front, to decide whether to stick to its declared boycott of the July 26 polls. But “if only 20 percent of the voters are registered, it won’t be fair,” she said, indicating that low voter registration is one critical determinant.
Meanwhile, Princess Vacheara said she is preparing as if Funcinpec will participate, and she plans to return to Cambodia next month to travel from “town to town to talk with the people.”
She acknowledged that the party doesn’t have a lot of money, but is confident of its chances.
“If the elections are free and fair, Funcinpec will have a very, very big chance to win,” she said.
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