Two of Cambodia’s royalist parties are to merge, top officials from both sides said Monday, after a key leader seen as an obstacle to the unification announced his retirement last week.
The Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) will be dissolved and its members merged into the Funcinpec party, the only group in a coalition with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
The Funcinpec party was founded in 1981 by King Norodom Sihanouk. His son Prince Norodom Ranariddh set up the NRP after being ousted from Funcinpec six years ago.
The merger move came Monday after the surprise resignation Friday by the prince as NRP president. He said he was retiring from politics.
"I would like to announce, from now on, that I will stop doing politics and will not take responsibility for any work and decisions made by the Norodom Ranariddh Party anymore," he said in a statement.
The prince did not elaborate on his resignation but it came amid rifts in the NRP over an earlier planned merger with Funcinpec.
Sao Rany, chosen as NRP’s acting president on Monday, said the party’s supporters would stand behind the merger even though Norodom Ranariddh had refused to go through with it.
“Supporters at the grassroots level want to merge, so one plus one is two,” he said, adding that the reinvigorated Funcinpec party will be more popular in the upcoming general election in July 2013.
The two groups will begin implementing the merger at a general assembly on Aug. 24, where they will elect a new party president.
The NRP will change its name to the “Nationalist Party” for the time being, while Funcinpec will keep its name as that of the whole party after the merger.
He added that he has withdrawn a lawsuit filed against Norodom Ranariddh, who had fired him as general secretary.
The prince took the action after learning Sao Rany had planned to lead a faction of the NRP to join with Funcinpec. Sao Rany regained his post through legal action.
An earlier attempt to merge the two parties in May failed after disagreement between Norodom Ranariddh and Funcinpec executive president Nhek Bun Chhay.
The prince said he would only merge with Funcinpec without Nhek Bun Chhay, who had accused the prince of planning to work with democratic opposition parties to challenge the ruling party in the next election.
As Funcinpec remains in the coalition government, Nhek Bun Chhay has been able to keep his position as one of six deputy prime ministers, even though Funcinpec’s seats in the National Assembly have declined to two.
Late last month, a group of senior NRP members wanted to join Funcinpec but the prince refused, saying the NRP could join Funcinpec only without Nhek Bun Chhay.
Norodom Ranariddh, who is currently in France, is chief advisor to King Norodom Sihamoni, who is also his half-brother.
His political career began when as head of Funcinpec he won Cambodia's U.N.-sponsored election in 1993, but was forced to accept being co-prime minister to Hun Sen, who then ousted him in a bloody coup in 1997.
Political analyst Sok Touch commented that the prince was a victim of a weak political strategy regarding the merger with Funcinpec and that his officials had failed him.
“Members of the Royal Family [just] enjoy being praised, so they have forgotten to prepare any political strategy. So party officials are able to topple the prince from within the party,” he said.
In 2008 parliamentary elections, Funcinpec and the NRP both suffered massive defeat, receiving only two seats each, while Hun Sen’s CPP scored a landslide victory, and the key opposition parties—the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party—solidified their positions.
Last month, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party announced their planned merger in a bid to challenge the CPP in next year’s vote.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.