Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Cambodian royalist party throws out absentee leader

AP , PHNOM PENH

Cambodia's royalist party yesterday voted to remove Prince Norodom Ranariddh as its leader, saying he was unable to lead the fractious party because he is out of the country too often.

The Funcinpec party said in a statement issued at the end of an extraordinary congress that it had chosen Keo Puth Rasmey, Cambodia's ambassador to Germany, to replace Ranariddh, whose current whereabouts were not clear.

"It comes to a point where our former president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is not able to perform his duty, having lived abroad so long," Keo Puth Rasmey told reporters.

Ranariddh is the son of Norodom Sihanouk, the country's retired but still-revered king, who founded Funcinpec and whose name helped the party win a UN-organized 1993 election.

But under Ranariddh's leadership, the party's popularity has steadily declined over the past decade. Funcinpec was defeated in the last two general elections by its main rival, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Ranariddh formed an uneasy coalition partnership with Hun Sen. Then in March, the prince resigned as National Assembly president to protest a change in voting rules engineered by Hun Sen's party that lets the parliament pass legislation with a simple majority instead of two-thirds. This meant the CPP no longer needed the support of Ranariddh's lawmakers.

Over the last six months, Ranariddh has lived in exile, mostly in France, where he has a residence. He briefly returned to Cambodia last month.

Ranariddh's dismissal followed a bitter verbal exchange with Hun Sen, who criticized the prince's weak leadership and called for Funcinpec to dump him.

Ranariddh "has no more good collaboration with our partner, the [CPP], that's why we all come to a conclusion that the prince must be asked to be elevated as historic leader," Keo Puth Rasmey said, referring to a rank that is largely ceremonial.

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