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Cambodia: Prince Ranariddh returns to politics

Categories: East Asia, Cambodia, Politics

Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was a former Prime Minister and royalist party leader of the country, has vowed to be politically active once more. He left the country two years ago after the split in his party and his conviction in absentia of embezzlement. Netizens and political pundits are assessing the impact of Prince Ranariddh's statement on Cambodian politics.

Retiring from politics in 2008, Prince Ranariddh surprised everybody in Cambodia when he recently announced that he will return to politics in order to strengthen the royalist movement. Speaking in Kampong Cham province early this month before a crowd of about 500 supporters, the prince emphasized that his return is a response to the petitions asking him to regain leadership in Cambodia. Via the Phnom Penh Post [1], he explains further:

“I am preparing myself to lead the Norodom Ranariddh Party,…Doing politics is the same as being addicted to opium, but what is important is that there have been a lot of petitions inviting me to lead the Norodom Ranariddh Party.”

In the same article [1], the prince asserted his centrist approach by neither supporting nor criticizing the government. With this stance, the Prince hopes to merge with royalist groups and other willing parities like Human Rights Party. However, this political plan is difficult to accomplish as there are denial [2] and unresolved conflicts among the groups. There is also a question about whether he is affiliated with the democrats or communists.

Reacting to the reported return of the prince, Prime Minster Hun Sen warned that this will link the monarchy with politics and this will require the prince's resignation as a royal adviser to his brother, King Norodom Sihamoni. Hun Sen explains [3] why the prince should resign as the king's adviser:

“If you want to do politics, you have to quit the Supreme Council as adviser to the King, otherwise the King will lose neutrality on the matter of politics.  The name of the King will be used for propaganda, saying I am a brother of the King, I am the son of former King, and it will link the King with politics.”

This reaction probably has been expected beforehand that is why the prince said during the gathering at Kompong Cham province that his return to politics is not intended to provoke conflict with the Prime Minster. Later, after the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk, wrote on his website to show his complete support for Hun Sen as leader of Cambodia, Prince Ranariddh clarified that he is open to forming a coalition government with the premier’s Cambodian People’s Party.

Such stance has been criticized by the Son of the Khmer Empire [4] who wrote that the prince has no clear political vision and this scenario could be a plot between the prince and the Prime Minister.

While the return of the prince has attracted considerable attention from prominent political parties and traditional media, it seems there has been no significant reaction from local netizens who often exchange ideas and news commentaries via online social networks tools such as blogs, facebook and twitter. Evidently, only the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a local non-political NGO has initiated a poll about the issue via facebook that is now generating maybe less than 10 respondents:

Is the return of Norodom Ranaridh a good thing for Cambodian politics? [5]

This may answer partly the question on whether the return of the prince would have a huge impact on Cambodian politics.