The announcement Thursday night by Prince Norodom Ranariddh
that he was quitting politics for good led to an emergency session of his party
Friday and suddenly altered Cambodia's
Prince Ranariddh, who emerged in the 1990s as Hun Sen's
chief political rival and only returned to Cambodia on Saturday after a year
and a half of exile, told journalists at a dinner party Thursday night he was
done with politics.
"I will resign from politics. I will go to work at the Royal Palace,
if King [Norodom] Sihamoni allows me to work with him," Prince Ranariddh told a
crowded banquet room of reporters. "My resignation will not affect my party."
The prince planned to appoint Norodom Ranariddh Party Vice President Chhim
Serkleng as the leader of the party, he said. In an emergency meeting Friday,
NRP officials planned to hold an open vote for Chhim Serkleng's leadership
Prince Ranariddh left the country in early 2007 ahead of a
breech of trust trial, in which he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 18 months in prisonfor profiting
from the sale of Funcinpec party headquarters when he was its president.
He was granted a royal pardon by King Sihamoni in September,
with the approval of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Prince Ranariddh's resignation announcement was a regretful
consequence of political pressure from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, other
political leaders said.
"The resignation of Prince Norodom Ranariddh may be from a
condition for his return to the country," said Kem Sokha, president of the
Human Rights Party. "However, I'm not surprised at his resignation. The prince
should have resigned from politics a long time ago, because his popularity has
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Friday the
prince's resignation was in the country's interest.
"In the political situation now, we need to compromise with
parties for national reconciliation," he said.
Prince Ranariddh's political career began in March 1983,
when he formed the Front Uni National pour un Cambodge
Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif, or Funcinpec,
party, contesting national elections in 1993.
Funcinpec won 58 National Assembly seats in the UN-sponsored
elections, seven more than the Cambodian People's Party, led by Hun Sen, who
denied the results and threatened open war and the declaration of an autonomous
A power-sharing deal ensued, and the two men acted in a
co-premiership until 1997, when the CPP seized control of the government
following two days of armed conflict in Phnom Penh.
Following a contentious election win in 1998, the CPP
offered a coalition deal to Funcinpec, beginning a tradition of political
partnership that has lasted until today.
However, Prince Ranariddh split from Funcinpec and opened
his own party from exile ahead of local commune elections in 2007 and national
elections in July.
Both Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party won only two
seats apiece in July. The CPP offered the Funcinpec coalition status, but none
was forthcoming for the party of the prince.