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Ranariddh speaks out

Neth Pheaktra and Sebastian Strangio 
To begin with, what are your motivations for returning to politics?
Fortunately, I am back now”: Prince Norodom Ranariddh speaks during his interview with The Post last week. Photo by: Sovan Philong

There are two main reasons that I have returned to politics. First,
since I returned to live in my home country [in 2008] I have been
invited by members of the Nationalist Party, the former Norodom
Ranariddh Party. More than 11,165 petitions have been sent to me.

The
second reason is that though there have been many royalists in our
kingdom – in Nhek Bun Chhay’s clan, Keo Puth Reaksmey’s group, and at
Chhim Siek Lieng’s side – they have been unable to unify all of the
royalists. The royalist group has been divided into hopeless pieces,
like children who have no parents. So I believe I must return and
gather all the royalists.

I realise that my post as president of
the King’s [Supreme Privy Council] is a great and honourable position,
but if I cared only my own honour, my own comfortable living, and
collecting the three million riels of my salary, it would not be
possible to return to reunite the royalists. If possible, we will merge
the two [royalist] parties into one.

Doesn’t it all come a little too late, given the parlous state of the royalist movement at the moment?

I
don’t think it’s too late for the upcoming commune election in 2012 and
it isn’t too late for the national election in 2013. However, what we
must do is be honest among the leadership, and follow the royalist
purpose and aims in order to establish a new party. Recently, I
proposed to resume leadership of my lovely Funcinpec, merging it [with
the NRP] into Funcinpec 81 – referring to the year 1981, when the group
was founded by the King Father. But the new [party] has been rejected
by [Funcinpec Secretary General] Nhek Bun Chhay.

How are the reunification talks progressing now?

I
will still continue the unification – at least on my own side, the NRP
– if Funcinpec 81 is not accepted. I am confident of the reunification
because there is still a connection between the NRP’s members and
Funcinpec’s members. I am waiting for Nhek Bun Chhay. If he listens to
local members, if he is one of the royalists, if he really wants to see
unification, the door is still open for negotiation. I gave him a turn
to kick at the ball, but he hit it over.

Some are
suspicious that your return to politics is just a ploy by Prime
Minister Hun Sen to divert attention away from the punishment of
opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who you said has received a “red card” of
12 years in prison. What is your response to this?

I
have given a very clear reason for my return to politics. It’s not that
I am a pawn, a tool to confuse national and international opinion.
Moreover, if we listen to Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen, he seems not
to want my return to politics. Recently, he stated clearly, as did [CPP
lawmaker] Cheam Yeap, that Hun Sen likes Nhek Bun Chhay from Funcinpec:
he does not need the NRP.

You’ve said that you are
seeking a coalition deal with the Cambodian People’s Party, yet have
also said that you’d like to remain independent. How do you intend to
strike this balance?

In Cambodia we have only three
possibilities in the political field. One is the CPP, another one the
opposition. But I do think we have a middle path. I don’t like the word
“collaboration” – collaboration sounds like during the Second World War
when Petain of [Vichy] France collaborated with the Nazis. I rather
like to talk about cooperation. I share some concerns with the
opposition parties; only the approaches are different. I believe that
if we cooperate with the ruling party in the same system, maybe it will
be more efficient.

What is the middle way? It means that we
gather royalists under one party. This force shall convert into seats
at the commune councils, at the districts, provinces and
municipalities, and later, in July 2013, it will convert to more seats
in the National Assembly.

When we win seats, what will we do
with them? This is important. The opposition party has been opposing
for four mandates already, and I respect it. In a multiparty system,
the opposition is needed. But in Cambodia, the culture of the
opposition party is only to oppose. I’ve never seen any actual results
of any proposal from the opposition party. Corruption is still an
issue, land is still an issue, so is the independence of the judiciary.
There are many issues which remain the same – the CPP still rules.

Human
Rights Party President Kem Sokha has said that if your policies don’t
change, then he won’t lend you his support. But given your rather
turbulent relationship with Prime Minister Hun Sen, would you challenge
him as you did before he ousted you in July 1997?

When
I use the word “oppose”, it means that I am entering into the
opposition group. I prefer to choose the new phrase “contribute to
addressing national issues”, which implies that flexibility is not
always a good thing. For example, in the past I was very unsuccessful
at being flexible. We [Funcinpec] were partners, but most of our
ministers applied a flexible theory: when they saw others get involved
in corruption, they did so as well. They forgot their basic values and
origins and political approach. This was our big mistake.

Therefore,
I ask Kem Sokha to wait and see how I am doing, but not to hope that
I’ll become an opposition party, nor that I will serve as the front of
any party opposing the CPP. I will not do it because I am a son of the
King Father, who is siding with Hun Sen. The King Father wrote on
December 10 that he would continue to support Hun Sen 100 percent until
the end of his life. Norodom Sihamoni is the King of Cambodia and
Samdech Hun Sen is prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia – how can
I stupidly do that alone?

Some critics – including the
prime minister – have said that royalist parties risk dragging the
monarchy into a dirty political game and sullying its reputation. What
is your response?

We have to separate two things in a
very clear manner. One: His Majesty the King must be politically
neutral, meaning that he must not have any political party. The second
thing is this: I do believe that in a country like Cambodia – even like
in Thailand – [royals] should have a big political party.

I’d
like to remind you that my father, in 1955, after independence, saw
that the monarchy of the Kingdom was in a very difficult situation,
politically and socially. So, he abdicated, he stepped down, to form a
movement – the Sangkum Reastr Niyum – and he successfully resolved the
problem. And may I remind you that Samdech Hun Sen did not say, “Prince
Ranariddh, you must stop making politics”. I helped him to resolve
critical problems, I made him prime minister three times, in ’93, ’98
and 2003. He didn’t say anything at that time – he took advantage of
this.

It is my position that the royal family should not be a
pariah of politics. Our constitution says very clearly that our
citizens have a sacred right to have political activities.

In
the 1950s and 1960s, peasants and villagers would go to the Royal
Palace with their grievances. Today they go to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s
doorstep. How do you see the role of the monarchy today?

My father was called the “pink Prince” – la prince rose
– because at that time he was very close to the socialists. It was by
necessity, you see, but inside, his socialism rather meant social
justice, and he opened up the doors of the Royal Palace for all of the
people to come and to submit to him their difficulties. I remember two
families even went to the Royal Palace because their dispute was about
one palm tree!

But for the time being, people feel that the
real power is held by the Prime Minister instead of by His Majesty the
King, and the King likes to show that he is politically neutral, and
that by law, in a parliamentary system, the one who has the substance
of state power is rather the prime minister.

How did growing up under your father’s regime shape your political outlook?

For
me, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum was a golden era of Cambodia: 15 years of
peace when you had wars all around. It is one of the greatest
achievements of my father. Secondly, he developed the country without a
lot of assistance from outside. And thirdly, I think his real power was
based on the people. You could say maybe “people power”, but the
participation of the people through a lot of mechanisms: you had the
[National] Congress, you had the royal audience, etc.

I think
the SRN is a model of the unity of the nation. I think this is most
important: unity between the leadership and the grassroots, and if you
don’t have it, you won’t be able to solve the real problems of the
country. You see, for my father, the priority was the country, and
secondly his own party, and thirdly, the members of his party. But I’m
afraid that now, the first [priority] is the members of the parties.

We
were struck by a comment you made a couple of weeks back, when you said
politics was as “addictive as opium”. What are some of your more
personal motivations for getting back into politics?

Politicians
can’t really abandon politics, but there are in my opinion two types of
politics. One, to satisfy yourself. Another one is to really serve the
country. So if the opium is to really serve the country, I think it’s
good to have that opium. For me, the opium is to be with the people and
to serve the people.

What do you think about the current
development of the country, and how has it changed since you last had a
prominent role in government?

Firstly, I must say I did
not have enough time to serve the country, to [put] the country on the
way of progress. But I’d like to remind you that according to the
report of the World Bank in 2003, which I used for my electoral
campaign, in terms of FDI, the best years were from 1993 to 1998. In
1997 I was toppled. The investment law of 1994 – I was the architect of
that law, which was able to attract a lot of investment to Cambodia.

My
assessment is this: Cambodia has made progress, but not enough compared
to the other countries in the region. But you have to create an
atmosphere conducive to creating investment. I think that the lack of
transparency, the lack of a real independent judiciary create an
atmosphere not favourable to attracting serious investment to Cambodia,
but I’m not hopeless. I think we will be able to improve the situation.

What do you think history will say about Prince Ranariddh?

Fortunately,
I am back in politics, otherwise history would write about me that I
wasn’t a real prince of the people. Fortunately, I am back now.

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