Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Chakravuth: “Having a single party is dangerous”

Prince Norodom Chakravuth, president of the Funcinpec party, casts his ballot on Sunday. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Funcinpec Party President Prince Norodom Chakravuth shared his thoughts about the 2023 elections with CamboJA in a wide-ranging interview after he returned to his family’s summer home in Phnom Penh after voting on election day. Excerpts from the interview, conducted in English, are below.

Fairness of the election:

Chakravuth addressed criticism from the international community about the fairness of the national election. 

“If the election is free and fair, you don’t need international observers. I’m sorry to say it, but we send international observers to countries we think are not fair,” Chakaravuth said. “This election, they don’t have real opposition, so why cheat? If there is no opposition, why have a poll? What is the point of a poll with no opposition?”

He sees the issues Cambodia is facing today as the unfulfilled goals of the international community’s hopes for the country to establish a multi-party democracy in the aftermath of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.

“What they [the international community] started with UNTAC [United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] is not finished. They should implement a real democracy. All the efforts they have been doing now is a failure,” Chakaravuth said. “We should not prohibit people from talking, we should not cancel newspapers out, we should have the freedom of expression.”

Prince Norodom Chakravuth speaks with CamboJA at his family’s summer home in Phnom Penh on Sunday. (CamboJA/Andrew Califf)

Lack of a strong opposition party:

The prince expressed concern about the lack of a strong opposition party in Cambodia.

“Having a single party is dangerous, because sometimes you think you are right, but in the end you are lost in your power, which means you don’t really know the needs of the people. When you have an opposition party they will inform you, help you, they will say, ‘Ok, we have these problems,’” he said. “Opposition is not a negative thing, it helps you to solve people’s problems, this is what makes things evolve.” 

Chakaravuth emphasized that he does not consider Funcinpec an opposition party but rather a “contesting” party. He described his effort to take over leadership of Funcinpec as a “legacy” project, and said his friends described the work as “a kind of crusade.”

Hopes for the future with Hun Manet: 

The prince hopes that Funcinpec can work with Hun Manet, who is expected to take over as prime minister as soon as one month after the elections.

“They [The Hun family] have been running the country for much longer than me. They know each problem. I just hope Hun Manet is more open to some kind of democracy,” he said. “Hun Manet was from the West but he is still the son of Hun Sen, and I hope he understands the background of the population…If he wants to make the country more democratic, if he wants to develop the country, it will be a good point and we can work together.”

On the National Election Committee:

Chakaravuth said he believed the NEC would properly conduct vote tallying but said it should be a “neutral” body.

“The people working in the NEC should not be aligned with any party,” he said.

The chairman of the NEC, Prach Chan, is a member of the ruling CPP’s central committee. 

“The NEC has a responsibility to the people, everything is on their shoulders and they have to follow the decision of the people,” Chakaravuth said.

Cambodia’s place in the region:

Chakaravuth said he wants to focus on improving Cambodia’s development and capitalize on its central position in Southeast Asia, hoping to build an economic link between Thailand and Vietnam.

“You have to assert yourself, solve domestic problems first,” he said, adding that he would build a road from Thailand to Vietnam. “I look at a map of Southeast Asia, it reminds me of France a lot, because we are in the middle. Cambodia can be central, this is a way to make money.”

His advisor, Bunreoun Thach, added that the two main policies of Funcinpec are to adhere to the Paris Peace Agreement, which sought to implement multi-party democracy, and increasing freedom of speech.

Update: This article has been updated after its publication to remove a quote that had been agreed upon as off the record with CamboJA.