Royalist party Funcinpec announced the return of former co-prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh as party president following a 2018 car crash that severely injured him and killed his wife just before a national election.
At a press conference on Tuesday, party spokesperson Phann Sethy said Ranariddh, 76, had received prolonged medical treatment in France, but would resume his party leadership at the end of February, with a party congress scheduled on February 27.
“The health of the prince is much better. He can walk by himself and has been speaking a lot,” Sethy said.
The party was looking ahead to contesting commune elections next year as well as the 2023 national election, he said.
Funcinpec won the most votes in the U.N.-administered election of 1993, which restored elections following the Khmer Rouge regime and years of war. Amid threats of secession, however, Ranariddh shared the prime ministership with long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In 1997, armed factions loyal to the two co-prime ministers clashed, forcing Ranariddh into exile.
“Since the events of 1997, this party has been weak,” said political observer Meas Nee.
The party was also among two parties that filed for the dissolution of the main opposition CNRP in 2017, which led to the ruling CPP winning all 125 seats in the National Assembly in 2018. The CNRP’s dissolution has contributed to international criticism of a democratic backsliding, including the partial suspension of E.U. trade privileges.
Ranariddh was seriously injured in a traffic accident along National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nob district on June 17, 2018. His wife was killed, while the prince was hospitalized and required a wheelchair.
Nee said that Ranariddh’s return may help smooth over internal divisions, but “Funcinpec will not easily attract votes.”
Ruling CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan welcomed the news of Ranariddh’s return, while denying that Funcinpec’s decline had anything to do with the CPP.
“The decline or increase in the popularity of this party is an internal matter of Funcinpec, not relevant to the CPP. People join the CPP only out of preference,” Eysan said.
Former members of the CNRP, outlawed in 2017, have frequently told of being recruited and pressured to defect to the CPP.
Ranariddh previously announced his retirement from politics in 2008 after being convicted of fraud a year earlier. He returned to politics in 2014.