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Cablegate: Royalist Parties Struggle to Find Their Future

VZCZCXRO8926
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0881/01 3041010
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301010Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0047
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000881

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM CB
SUBJECT: ROYALIST PARTIES STRUGGLE TO FIND THEIR FUTURE

This message is Sensitive But Unclassified.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Fallout from the 2008 elections continues as the
royalist parties face the retirement of their stars, defection from
their ranks, and questions about their future. Prince Norodom
Ranariddh's retirement from politics has shaken his followers and
led to defections from his namesake party, but many believe that the
Prince's absence will be short-lived. A return to politics may be
on the Prince's horizon; whether he can turn that into a new future
for the royalist movement remains to be seen. Prime Minister Hun
Sen will try to ensure that any future actions by the Prince or his
former parties will serve to solidify his own Cambodian People's
Party's (CPP) dominance. END SUMMARY.

ROYAL FAMILY ANNOUNCES WITHDRAWAL FROM POLITICS
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) On October 13, Prince Norodom Sirivudh became the latest
royal family member to announce his retirement. He followed the
lead of his nephew, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who announced on
October 2 that he had quit politics just days after returning to
Cambodia from an 18-month self-exile. Sirivudh told the media that
the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk, wanted the royal family to
abstain from politics in the future. However, Poloff meetings with
party faithful and independent observers reveal that many anticipate
Ranariddh's retirement to be short-lived. The Norodom Ranariddh
Party (NRP) announced that it would continue to use the Prince's
name and image into the next mandate, and a FUNCINPEC official told
Poloff that the Prince had reached out to him in hopes of returning.
This echoes public statements by other government officials and
civil society that Ranariddh may not yet be finished with politics.


ROYALIST PARTIES BLEED MEMBERS
------------------------------

3. (SBU) Both FUNCINPEC and the NRP have seen their membership
dwindling drastically in recent weeks. More than 20 officials from
the NRP defected to the CPP following the announcement of
Ranariddh's retirement. Thav Kimhor, the party's former Deputy
Secretary General, told the press he felt that NRP politics were no
longer sustainable without their founder. Koul Panha, Executive
Director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia
(COMFREL), pointed out though that the CPP will not be an option for
most royalist defectors. In his opinion, the CPP only accepts
members who bring some kind of a constituency with them. Following
their poor showing in the last election, many royalists lack that
prerequisite.

4. (SBU) Meanwhile, according to local press reports, about half of
FUNCINPEC's members are threatening to leave their party for the NRP
in frustration over the lack of opportunities available to them in
the new government. Ok Socheat, advisor to the President of
FUNCINPEC, said that the party had proposed 300 slots for its
members, but that the CPP had only allocated 59 positions, plus two
advisors. Puthea Hang, the Executive Director of the NGO Neutral
and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia
(NICFEC), speculated that the defectors hoped to gain some of the
positions not yet allocated to the NRP. NRP Secretary General You
Hockry denied that so many FUNCINPEC members were seeking to join
his party, although he admitted that defectors would likely approach
Ranariddh directly for support rather than him.

LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS IN FUNCINPEC
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) When asked about the future of FUNCINPEC, Ok Socheat opined
that without a change in its leadership, the party would remain
divided and become irrelevant. The party is split into three
factions - those loyal to Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay, those
loyal to party President Keo Puth Rasmey, and those threatening to
defect. Socheat added that Nhiek Bun Chhay feared Prime Minister
Hun Sen too much. He said that Hun Sen holds the 2007 raid of a
methamphetamine lab on land allegedly belonging to Bun Chhay over
him. Socheat explained that if Bun Chhay stands up to the ruling
CPP, Hun Sen could bring charges against him for drug trafficking.


NRP IN "WAIT AND SEE" MODE
--------------------------

6. (SBU) NRP Secretary General You Hockry explained to Poloff that
he had no big plans for his party at this time. He indicated that
the Prince had agreed not to act in opposition to the government as
a condition of his pardon. It is not clear whether Ranariddh made
this deal verbally or in writing. You Hockry feared that if he took
any steps that the CPP could view as opposing the Prime Minister,
such as siding with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) on any issue,
Ranariddh and the NRP would blame him for violating the Prince's
pardon agreement. He said that his immediate responsibility is to

PHNOM PENH 00000881 002 OF 002


maintain the structure of the party, and that he could not move in a
new direction until he knew Ranariddh's future plans.

ROYALIST RECOVERY?
------------------

7. (SBU) Ok Socheat of FUNCINCPEC proposed that in order for the
royalist movement to continue as a viable political entity: 1)
Prince Ranariddh must return to lead, 2) the NRP and FUNCINPEC must
unite, and 3) the single party must focus on growing their support
base from the provinces where they are strongest. He insisted that
Prince Ranariddh intends to reenter politics and wants to lead
FUNCINPEC again, if Hun Sen allows it and Nhiek Bun Chhay quits the
party. He added that while the unification of the royalist parties
could be difficult given the bad blood over the Prince's actions
when he quit FUNCINPEC in 2006, such reconciliation is necessary.
(Note: Ranariddh sold FUNCINPEC's headquarters upon leaving the
party and allegedly failed to turn over all proceeds to the party.
In the end, the dispute over finances was resolved but not before a
court sentenced Ranariddh to 18 months in jail for criminal fraud.
End Note.) Koul Panha of COMFREL said he sees Ranariddh rejoining
the NRP, rather than FUNCINPEC, and attempting to unite the
royalists under its banner.

SHAPING THE OPPOSITION
----------------------

8. (SBU) COMMENT: The royalist parties are in their weakest
position to date, and unless Ranariddh somehow manages to return to
the political game and unite them, they are past being significant
players in Cambodian politics. However, given that the Prince's
pardon agreement has granted Hun Sen sway over his actions, any
return to politics would likely serve the needs of the CPP, not
necessarily FUNCINPEC or the NRP. The Prime Minister might allow
Ranariddh to unite the royalist parties to act in coalition as a
buffer to CPP's manifest faults and as a foil to the SRP, which
means that FUNCINPEC and the NRP face a limited future at best. END
COMMENT.


CAMPBELL

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