Cablegate: Funcinpec Ousts Ranariddh As Party President

DE RUEHPF #1899/01 2921020
O 191020Z OCT 06





E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2016


Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Margaret McKean; Reason: 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. SBU) Summary. On October 18, a hurriedly convened
FUNCINPEC party congress voted to remove Prince Norodom
Ranariddh as party leader in favor of Keo Puth Rasmei, a
relative by marriage to the royal family and most recently
the RGC Ambassador to Germany. Ranariddh, who is currently
outside the country, has been given the ceremonial title of
Historical President but will have no responsibilities or
authority to run the party's internal affairs. Ranariddh
loyalists have cried foul and indicated a possible legal
challenge. Both the CPP and SRP have welcomed Ranariddh's
removal. FUNCINPEC Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay is
scheduled to leave for Beijing on October 20 for a meeting
with former King Norodom Sihanouk. Observers view the latest
chapter in the party's internal disarray as a victory for PM
Hun Sen, who has long sought to gain control over the
royalist party from within FUNCINPEC's own ranks. It also
obviates any possibility of a pro-democracy alliance that
would have united FUNCINPEC and the SRP against the CPP in
2008. End Summary.

Ranariddh Out; Keo Puth Rasmei Appointed New Party Leader
--------------------------------------------- ------------

2. (SBU) An estimated 1,500 FUNCINPEC party members
convened at FUNCINPEC's party headquarters on October 18,
having been hastily invited to Phnom Penh by FUNCINPEC's
Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay to discuss the upcoming

communal council elections in April 2007. During the course
of the party congress, FUNCINPEC party members voted to
remove Prince Norodom Ranariddh as party leader and instead
granted him the ceremonial title of Historical President.
Ranariddh loyalists and critics of Nhek Bun Chhay -- such as
Prince Norodom Chakrapong, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Ok
Socheat, You Hockry, Serei Kosal, and Princess Norodom
Vacheahra -- were not invited and conspicuously absent from
the proceedings.

3. (U) The party congress agreed that Keo Puth Rasmei, a
member by marriage of the royal family and Ambassador to
Germany, would take over as party leader, with Minister of
Rural Development Lu Lay Sreng and former co-Minister of
Defense Sisowath Sirirath as first and second
vice-presidents, respectively. Nhek Bun Chhay will remain as
the party's Secretary General. A number of other royal
family members will also hold positions with the party's
53-member steering committee. In accepting the leadership
mantle of FUNCINPEC, Rasmei promised to restore the party's
ability to defend its honor and dignity. Rasmei underscored
that FUNCINPEC will continue to seek cooperation with the
CPP, and characterized the ruling party as FUNCINPEC's
partner over the long term.

4. (U) In defending the congress' actions and Ranariddh's
removal as party president, Nhek Bun Chhay told reporters
that a small group of party members had usurped control over
the party for their own interests and endangered FUNCINPEC's
integrity and reputation, thereby imperiling the party's
relationship with the CPP. He personally blamed Prince
Ranariddh for creating problems between FUNCINPEC and the CPP
through injudicious criticism of the Cambodia-Vietnam border
agreement, a proposal to return the former King to lead the
government, and discussions with the SRP over possible future
collaboration against the CPP. On behalf of the ruling
party, CPP President Chea Sim warmly congratulated
FUNCINPEC's new leadership, noting that the CPP would respect
the decisions of the party congress. He renewed the CPP's
desire to work in a governing coalition partnership with
FUNCINPEC. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy called the
FUNCINPEC congress' decision an internal party matter, adding
that this latest development would not affect his party's
relations with the CPP or FUNCINPEC. Even if Ranariddh
launches his own party, declared Rainsy, the SRP will not
work with him as Ranariddh has frequently changed his
position and is not considered trustworthy.

Ranariddh's Options

5. (C) On October 17, several Ranariddh loyalists contacted
the Embassy as well as the UN Human Rights Office regarding
alleged security threats and intimidation in advance of the
October 18 congress. Pol/Econ Chief met with former
FUNCINPEC Senior Minister Serei Kosal, who provided copies of
the invitations sent to party members throughout the
provinces, which stated that the purpose of the October 18
meeting was to formulate plans for the upcoming communal

PHNOM PENH 00001899 002 OF 003

elections. He also provided the memo from Nhek Bun Chhay to
the Prime Minister requesting police security be provided to
the party congress. Serei Kosal noted that the invitation to
party members did not characterize the meeting as a party
congress, as only the party president (Ranariddh) is
empowered by the party by-laws to convene a party congress.
Yet the memo to the PM described the meeting as a party
congress designed to select a new party leader.

6. (C) Kosal noted that he and other Ranariddh loyalists
did not receive invitations and the police presence was
designed to prevent them from attending the congress and
protesting the gathering. He further added that FUNCINPEC
members of the government had been instructed to attend the
meeting and support Ranariddh's removal or else lose their
jobs. Kosal said Ranariddh has several options, and may
launch a court case challenging the legality of the party
congress. In the aftermath of Ranariddh's removal, press
reports suggest that Ranariddh is considering launching his
own party. As a final resort, the Prince may seek to legally
dissolve FUNCINPEC and force Nhek Bun Chhay and the others to
use a different party name. Kosal lamented that Ranariddh
did not remove Nhek Bun Chhay from the party earlier. He
said that he and others opposed Ranariddh's decision to keep
Nhek Bun Chhay within the party, when it was apparent that
Nhek Bun Chhay's loyalties were to Hun Sen and the CPP was
using Nhek Bun Chhay to create divisions within FUNCINPEC.
Ranariddh decided that maintaining Nhek Bun Chhay within the
party would appease Hun Sen and ensure that the party did not
splinter, said the FUNCINPEC official. Instead, Nhek Bun
Chhay has instigated a party coup and removed Ranariddh.

7. (C) When asked if the timing of the party congress is
related to Nhek Bun Chhay's scheduled trip on October 20 to
meet with former King Sihanouk in Beijing, Serei Kosal
answered in the affirmative. Although the former King
reportedly wants continued harmony between FUNCINPEC and the
CPP, Kosal said that Nhek Bun Chhay will nevertheless seek to
reassure Sihanouk that his actions are in the best interest
of the party and royal family. For that reason, there are a
number of royal family members who will still have senior
positions within the party. (Comment: In a separate meeting
with SRP MP Keo Remy, Remy said that Keo Puth Rasmei and the
other royalists who are going along with Nhek Bun Chhay are
puppets. Another source who recently had dinner with Prince
Norodom Sirivudh described the feeling among many royalists
as somber and defeated. End Comment.)

Winners and Losers

8. (C) The biggest winner in the latest chapter of
FUNCINPEC is PM Hun Sen, who has asserted his authority over
FUNCINPEC and removed Ranariddh from the leadership of the
royal family's own party. The CPP-inspired takeover of
FUNCINPEC will preclude an anti-CPP alliance from forming in
the run up to the national elections in 2008. SRP and
FUNCINPEC members have said that such an alliance could be
dangerous for Hun Sen not because FUNCINPEC and SRP would
likely win, but that the Chea Sim faction within the CPP
could use a united opposition as leverage to force Hun Sen to
step down as PM in 2008 by threatening to break away and
throw their support to the opposition. There have been
undercurrents of dissatisfaction from some within the CPP who
reportedly are unhappy over the unequal sharing of political
spoils within the party. With FUNCINPEC safely within Hun
Sen's pocket, the opposition will be effectively divided and
the CPP will remain united as there will be no alternative
for Chea Sim's group or any other disaffected portion of the

9. (C) Sam Rainsy is the second big winner in Ranariddh's
demise as the leader of FUNCINPEC. The SRP hopes to be the
recipient of FUNCINPEC members and voters seeking to defect
from the party in the aftermath of the upheaval in party
leadership. The SRP leader advised his MPs to vote in
support of the CPP's removal of 10 FUNCINPEC government
officials and replacement by Nhek Bun Chhay loyalists during
an October 16 National Assembly vote. Rainsy told us that he
supported the move, and alerted Hun Sen to that effect. The
benefit in playing along with such a move, Rainsy explained,
was that it would provide breathing space and security for
the SRP to be seen as supportive of the CPP, and hurt
Ranariddh and FUNCINPEC. FUNCINPEC voters will see that
their party is increasingly under the CPP's thumb, he
continued, and SRP will be the chief beneficiary by securing
new supporters.

10. (C) The biggest losers are the members of the royal
family. Ranariddh is the most immediate victim of Hun Sen's

PHNOM PENH 00001899 003 OF 003

political victory. Even if Ranariddh returns to Cambodia to
head his own party, it will split the opposition vote even
further and he will amount to nothing more than a minor
player. The entire royal family, however, is likely to lose
over the longer term. Cambodian television station CTN
journalist Soy Sopheap, who maintains personal communication
with the PM, told us on October 18 that the CPP plans to
resurrect an earlier draft law banning members of the royal
family from participation in politics and from holding any
government position. The draft law will not go forward now,
said Sopheap, but the CPP intends to seek its passage before
the 2008 elections. Hun Sen wants the royal family
completely removed from Cambodia's political life, and
prefers to relegate the royal family members to charitable
work or informal work currying favor with diplomats and other
donors on behalf of the RGC. The PM will provide stipends to
each royal family member, based on a scale determined by
their title and rank within the monarchy. But they are to
have no role in any future Cambodian government, summed up


11. (C) Ranariddh has clearly been outflanked by Hun Sen
and Nhek Bun Chhay, despite the Prince's late September
changes to the FUNCINPEC party structure (reftel) designed to
keep the FUNCINPEC Secretary General in check. The former
FUNCINPEC leader has no one to blame but himself, as he
allowed his lifestyle and extensive absences from the country
to play into the hands of political enemies. Even FUNCINPEC
loyalists opposed to Nhek Bun Chhay's cozy relationship with
the CPP despaired over Ranariddh's flaccid leadership. As a
result, the political playing field in Cambodia has narrowed
with CPP covering most of the bases. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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