Ranariddh was relatively candid about the errors that brought his party low after its initial successes in the 1990s. Too many party officials, he said, entered into the game of patronage, and the competition for political spoils tainted their political credibility. ‘Flexibility is not always a good thing,’ Ranariddh said. ‘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.’
On the other hand, he faulted Cambodia’s current liberal opposition—embodied by the Sam Rainsy Party, the second-largest party in parliament—as being defined only by its oppositionist stance.‘In Cambodia’, Ranariddh said, ‘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.’
Ranariddh’s newest pledge is to hew to a ‘middle path’—to stake out a space within government, and promote change from within the system. He said he believes there’s ample time for the royalists to turn around their fortunes before commune council elections scheduled for 2012, and national elections the year after.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The prince said: ‘I don’t like the word “collaboration”—collaboration sounds like during the Second World War when Petain of 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.’
But after so long out of the game, analysts say he faces significant obstacles both in uniting his own camp and re-establishing his political credentials. Son Soubert, a political observer and former member of Cambodia’s Constitutional Council, says that with Funcinpec having relinquished its critical stance for a role in government, only a genuinely fresh approach from the royalists can attract fresh support. ‘If Prince Ranariddh is willing to positively criticise the government, it’s a good thing,’ he says, but adds that it would be ‘hopeless’ unless he sticks to his guns.
In a political system that pays little respect to the concept of a loyal opposition, it’s unclear how Ranariddh intends to toe the line between working with the government and taking stands on principle. Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, says that though Ranariddh retains a small amount of political capital—mainly gleaned from his father Sihanouk’s lofty reputation—whether he has a role in government will depend largely on the whims of Hun Sen and the ruling CPP. Though he will likely try to play the royalist card to gain support at the ballot box, it’s by no means assured that Cambodian voters will rally to his call.