The royalist Funcinpec party fired three senior officials after they filed a complaint with the Interior Ministry alleging that a former wife of party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh took and misused the party seal.
Funcinpec, a royalist party that won a plurality in the 1993 national election but entered a power-sharing agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP — and has dwindled since — has a history of internal factional fighting, including a split by former secretary-general Nhek Bun Chhay to form the Khmer Nation United Party in 2016.
The two parties earlier this year announced a plan to reunite and merge ahead of the 2022 and 2023 elections, but internal disputes have resurfaced within the Funcinpec fold.
The party seal allegations were made by three party vice presidents — Say Hak, Chap Nhalivuth and Heng Chantha — who had asked Norodom Marie Ranariddh to return the party seal by September 23, alleging that she, along with her assistant Heng Hak Lim, had used it to make appointments and approve party documents.
A Funcinpec statement then fired two of the vice presidents, Hak and Nhalivuth, as well as the party’s deputy secretary-general Phan Sithy, for “conducting ill activities, causing division among Funcinpec’s internal [structure], defaming the prince and his family for personal benefit.”
The party also condemned a meeting of the three vice presidents, saying it violated internal bylaws. The statement, dated Friday, encouraged party workers to focus on preparations for the upcoming elections.
Funcinpec spokesperson Nhoeun Raden said the three officials were fired for their accusations against the prince’s ex-wife but also for trying to rush and force the merger with KNUP by allegedly appointing Nhalivuth acting party president.
“In previous statements of the party’s position, it was said that Funcinpec maintains the stance to unite with the Khmer National United Party and was waiting for the presence of Samdech Krom Preah,” Raden said, referring to Prince Ranariddh.
Ranariddh was in a serious car accident in 2018 that killed his wife, Ouk Phalla, and left the former first prime minister seriously injured. Since then he has received treatment in France to recuperate. He was scheduled to return to the country earlier this year but remains in France.
Sithy, the party’s deputy secretary-general, rejected the party’s decision to fire him and said that the Interior Ministry was already told of the party seal allegations. He denied wanting to use the seal to accelerate the KNUP merger, saying he only wanted to keep it safe because it had allegedly been used to appoint and remove provincial party staff.
“I do not accept this decision because the decision is not the decision of the president. This decision could be the decision of a group of people and Heng Hak Lim ordered it — I think so,” Sithy said, pointing to Marie Ranariddh’s assistant.
Last week, Sithy had said that the request for the party seal was not because they had a grouse against Marie Ranariddh but to reduce confusion in the party ranks of who was in charge and to plan for the elections.
“So that to avoid public confusion, we will facilitate the work,” he said. “There are no arguments with Princess Marie but just that if she does not hand over, we also don’t know what to do. There is no option but just ask her to hand over the seal.”
In response, party spokesman Raden last week said the three party vice presidents should have sent a letter to Prince Ranariddh asking about the seal and shouldn’t have made public allegations.