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Cablegate: Rudderless Funcinpec Not Ruling Anything Out

VZCZCXRO2051
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0904/01 1841024
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031024Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8666
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000904

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, INR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2017
TAGS: PGOV KDEM CB
SUBJECT: RUDDERLESS FUNCINPEC NOT RULING ANYTHING OUT


Classified By: Pol/Econ Officer Jennifer Spande for reason 1.4 (b).

1. (C) Summary. FUNCINPEC's leaders appear to have no
guiding vision for their party and are disjointedly
discussing party independence, reunification with the Norodom
Ranariddh Party (NRP), and a continued coalition with the
ruling CPP. At a June 28 lunch with the Ambassador and DCM,
FUNCINPEC President Keo Puth Rasmey, Prince Sisowath
Sirirath, and Minister of Education Kol Pheng found it easier
to revel in the party's glory days and lampoon Prince Norodom
Ranariddh than to put forward any definite strategy for the
party's growth. Instead, the leaders gave the impression of
marking their time, that they are willing to cooperate with
anyone, a strategy that is likely to ensure their survival
for the moment but will continue to erode what little
influence they may still have. End Summary.

FUNCINPEC's Survival: Exceeding their Low Expectations
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) FUNCINPEC had fared better since Ranariddh's
departure than Rasmey had expected, the FUNCINPEC President
said, admitting that at one point he feared the party would
not survive. He claimed that Ranariddh has been the real
loser from the split, attracting fewer than half of the
FUNCINPEC base. (Comment: This claim comes despite the NRP
outperforming FUNCINPEC in the April 1, 2007 commune council
election, and represents a significant lowering of
aspirations from Rasmey's pre-election posture. End
Comment.) Moreover, Rasmey rebutted speculation that
Ranariddh's continued absence from Cambodia had hurt the
NRP's performance in the election, instead asserting that it
may have actually helped by generating sympathy for the
embattled leader who faces an 18-month prison term at home.
In the 2008 national elections, whenRanariddh has either
returned from self-imposed exile or his absence is old news,
the NRP will lose those sympathy votes and FUNCINPEC is
likely to fare even better, Rasmey suggested.

3. (SBU) Rasmey said he was proud of FUNCINPEC's policy
achievements over the years, but admitted that the party had
failed to translate these accomplishments into voter support.
He noted that being in a coalition with the ruling CPP has
put them in a difficult position, as FUNCINPEC can neither
effectively claim credit for government successes (which the
CPP publicizes as their own) nor criticize their partner
party's shortcomings. To address this dilemma, FUNCINPEC
will strive to differentiate itself from the CPP without
actually publicly opposing the party. FUNCINPEC's 2008
political platform will be based on the notion of
"progressive monarchy", Rasmey said, explaining that this
would mean support for democracy and human rights as well as
maintaining the monarchy. The party will concentrate its
political efforts in 15 of Cambodia's most populous provinces.

Rapprochement with Ranariddh Possible
--------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Rasmey and his FUNCINPEC colleagues appeared to
have mixed feelings about Ranariddh, delighting in
disparaging his self-importance and recounting unflattering
stories about the prince while simultaneously admiring his
charisma and emotional appeal to voters. The FUNCINPEC
leaders expressed confidence that their party could survive
without Ranariddh and claimed unconvincingly that they, not
the NRP, had momentum among royalist supporters. Rasmey also
said that lower-profile royals like Prince Thomico and
Ranariddh advisors Ok Socheat and Noranarith Anandyath had
indicated their willingness to re-join FUNCINPEC. (Note:
Prince Thomico publicly announced his move to FUNCINPEC on
July 2. End Note.)

5. (SBU) "Sometimes one plus one equals three or four,"
Rasmey observed, indicating that if the NRP and FUNCINPEC
were to re-join forces, they might attract a new group of
supporters disenchanted with other parties. Rasmey gave
contradictory messages about how eager the party was to
reunite with Ranariddh, at one point claiming that he was "in
no rush to talk to Ranariddh" but would be open to discussing
reunification if Ranariddh approached them first.

6. (SBU) However, Rasmey later allowed that he had traveled
to Kuala Lumpur to meet with the prince after the April 1
elections, a trip for which he had secured the Prime
Minister's blessing in advance. Ultimately, Rasmey and
Ranariddh failed to meet because they could not establish in
advance the circumstances under which Ranariddh might return
to the party. Ranariddh insisted that FUNCINPEC must agree
to three conditions: convincing the government to drop its
arrest warrant against him so that he could return to
Cambodia, the reunited FUNCINPEC operating without internal

PHNOM PENH 00000904 002 OF 002


divisions, and reinstating Ranariddh as party leader. Rasmey
stated he had no problem with the first two conditions, but
that the last condition was hard to accept as FUNCINPEC was
not comfortable with Ranariddh in any role more visible or
powerful than the "historical president" position they had
offered him several months ago. (Comment: It seemed to us
that their insistence that Ranariddh return to the symbolic
but powerless post of "historical president" all but
guarantees he will not return to the fold. However, the
FUNCINPEC representatives insisted Ranariddh had not
discounted this possibility. End Comment.)

7. (SBU) In a separate conversation with Poloff on July 3,
Ky Lum Ang, FUNCINPEC Deputy Undersecretary for Political
Affairs, said that the deal with Prince Thomico and Ok
Socheat had been approved but that FUNCINPEC's Steering
Committee was still reviewing what exact positions to offer
the two NRP defectors. She held out no hope that Thomico
would be able to act as a bridge to Ranariddh and likened
FUNCINPEC to a dysfunctional family after the parents had
divorced. Her personal assessment was that FUNCINPEC was now
"falling" and that all of its accomplishments over the years
will have been for nought unless a reunion with Ranariddh can
be fashioned. That, she said, depended on the proud
Ranariddh coming back to the table in negotiations she
labeled as "ongoing."

FUNCINPEC Open to Coalition with CPP
------------------------------------

8. (SBU) When asked to comment on speculation that FUNCINPEC
exists because the Prime Minister allows it to exist, Rasmey
seemed to suggest that he realized his party could not
function without some sort of tacit blessing from the PM.
Rasmey confided that he was open to continuing FUNCINPEC's
coalition with the CPP after the next election, noting that a
reunited FUNCINPEC could be an effective coalition partner
for the CPP. Rasmey had in fact already discussed the
possibility of a new coalition with Hun Sen, he said, and the
Prime Minister reportedly said he would be willing to partner
again with FUNCINPEC as long as the party did not exacerbate
divisions within the CPP.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) FUNCINPEC's leaders articulate no clear sense of
how to guide their party and seem to hope that FUNCINPEC's
former glory and their willingness to form alliances with
anyone will ensure their survival. The party seems least
interested in joining a grand coalition of opposition forces.
FUNCINPEC's purported platform of "progressive monarchy"
fails to distinguish it from any of the other opposition
parties, who all support greater political freedoms and
maintaining the monarchy. Moreover, in Cambodia's
personality-driven politics, FUNCINPEC's bland leaders have
nothing to offer voters. Given the party's lack of
ideological backbone and apparent willingness to partner with
anyone who asks, the party is likely to survive for a while
longer, fading slowly, but never gaining any real influence
or power. End Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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