Under a white and yellow tent in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district, female dancers clad in traditional attire danced as part of a blessing ceremony at the party congress of the beleaguered royalist Funcinpec party.
After a moment of silence for King Father Norodom Sihanouk and late party president Norodom Ranarridh, the master of ceremony put forth the nomination of the latter’s son, Norodom Chakravuth, to lead the party. Party officials from across the country raised small placards with the party logo in unison, expressing their approval for the motion.
Chakravuth was then handed the national and party flags and the contentions party seal. He will now lead the royalist party in the June commune election, after years of party infighting and turmoil.
“In order to repay to the good deeds of Prince Norodom Ranarridh, the former Funcipec president, I will try to gather former royalists — Sihanouk followers and Ranariddh supporters — to make the party succeed again,” he said at the end of the party congress.
After winning the first democratic election in 1993 and an armed clash with CPP military factions in 1997, Funcinpec did not win a single seat in the 2013 elections, ceding political ground to the ascendent CNRP. The royalist party reentered the National Assembly only after it was handed around 40 seats which were previously held by the court-dissolved CNRP.
The party struggled to put forward a cohesive front since a car crash in 2018 injured Ranarridh and killed his wife. Factional infighting and, more recently, a challenge to Ranarridh’s leadership by party members had Funcinpec on the backfoot.
However, the party faithful at the congress were confident of Chakravuth’s chances in resurrecting Funcinpec.
Phann Han, 60, joined the party in 1993 and is currently the head of the party’s Rokha Kiri district office in Battambang. He was optimistic that the prince had the ability to lead the party and bring all royalist forces together.
“Talking about being as strong as in 1993, we don’t know that yet, [but] we have to look to the leadership of the prince Chakravuth,” he said.
Mat Sen, 63, is a former royalist soldier and currently the Russei Keo district party president in Phnom Penh. He felt that royalist supporters were fractured and needed to coalesce because they believed in peace and development.
“I strongly believe that the prince and his intelligence could lead Funcipec to progress because he is a son of samdech krompreah and he is educated,” Sen said, using an honorific for Ranarridh.
He wasn’t sure if the party would win seats in the upcoming election, but hoped for the best.
The congress also tweaked the party’s bylaws, picked three party vice presidents — Chhoeng Chamroeun, Por Bunsreu and Pov Eng Kry — and approved a new board, among other procedural activities.
The party would follow a six-point policy that proposes national unity, national reconciliation, cooperation with partner parties and a neutral and nonaligned policy.
Without going into too much detail, party spokesperson Nhoeun Raden said an internal compromise had been reached and that vice president Bunsreu and Heng Chantha — both of whom had previously criticized Ranarridh’s handling of the party — were now onboard with Chakravuth’s ascension.
He said the party hoped to win 10 seats in the National Assembly — which is currently completely controlled by the CPP — hoping they’d do well in the party “strongholds” of Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Battambang, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Speu and Preah Sihanouk.
He said there were many parties interested in contesting the elections, which was an encouraging sign.
“I want Cambodia to have many parties and more seats like in a garden with mixed flowers,” he said. “I want all the parties to gain seats and Funcinpec will also gain.”
Asked how much hope he had, Prince Chakravuth said: “I have hope. If I didn’t have hope, why would I have come here?”