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Royalists Lost Election, Not Royalty: Experts

The demonstrated weakness of two royalist parties in Sunday's polls should not be a worry that royal sentiment among Cambodians is down, analysts and observers said this week.

Instead, the poor numbers from both Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party point to one thing: royalist politicians.

"The result of the election shows that the potential of royalism [for political gain] is down. The decline was unexpected," said Ros Chantraboth, a doctoral professor of history at the Royal Academy.

The problem stems from royalist politicians, he said, who cannot serve the needs of citizens.

Ros Chantraboth and other analysts and observers said royalism was strong, even if royalist politics are not, especially through the popularity of the former king Norodom Sihanouk, and the king, his son, Norodom Sihamoni.

Prince Sisowatch Thomico, a former personal secretary of Sihanouk, said royalism is remains popular in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

"I think if royalism has declined, it is not linked to political parties, which have affirmed they are royalist," he said. "But I think after this election, they will prepare a draft law to prevent royal family members from engaging in politics."

Prince Thomico said the weakness of royalty or royalist parties is due to the division of the royalist parties.

Funcinpec had 58 of 120 National Assembly seats in 1993, a majority followed by the Cambodian People's Party 51.

The party was down to 26 seats by 2003, before the party fractured following a party coup in October 2006 led by now Secretary-General Nhiek Bunnchay.

At a party congress that month, Nhiek Bunnchay led a vote to oust then-party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh and install Keo Puth Reaksmey, a son-in-law of Sihanouk.

Prince Ranariddh went on to form his own self-named party, but neither royalist party fared well in Sunday's poll. Unofficial results show they both won just two seats apiece.

Prince Sisowath Sirirath, second vice-president of Funcinpec, and You Hockry, secretary-general of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, both said this week that the poor election showing had to do with election irregularities, such as vote-buying, intimidation.

So the defeat of the parties did not reflect on the strength of royalty, they said.

If the royalist parties are to do better in the next election, they will have to unify, You Hockry said.

The decline of the royalist parties is explained by individual factors, said Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilization Fund and director of Eurasia Travel.

Royalist politicians "can endanger royalty," he said, through political mismanagement or not serving the interests of the people.

Cambodia has remained a kingdom for more than 2,000 years old, reaching the peak of its development during the reigns of Soryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, the Angkor period.

For 23 years, between 1970 and 1993, there was no royal regime, when the Khmer Rouge and civil war prevented the arrangement of a government. The 1993 constitution made Cambodia a kingdom again, a constitutional monarchy where the king, then Sihanouk, reigned but did not rule.

The defeat of the two royalist parties would not be able to pushdown sentiment for royalty, CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said, even if his party won 90 seats this election.

The CPP would continue to support royalty, he said. "The article of the constitution that says that Cambodia is a royalist regime…cannot be modified."