Prince Norodom Ranarid, former Cambodian prime minister, dies at 77 By Reuters

© Reuters. Prince Norodom Ranariddh points during an interview with Reuters at his home in central Phnom Penh, Cambodia on October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Baring


By Prak Chan Thule

PHnom Penh (Reuters) – Former Cambodian prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the half-brother of the current king, who spent his last years in the political shadow of his former rival Prime Minister Hun Sen, has died in France. He was 77 years old.

The emir, whose royalist political party won the 1993 elections, was overthrown in a 1997 coup by his coalition partner Hun Sen, who remains the authoritarian leader of Cambodia.

Hun Sen said in a statement on Sunday that he and his wife were “saddened” at the news, describing Ranariddh as “an eminent figure, (a) a member of the royal family who was patriotic to the nation, religion and king.”

Ranariddh was the most political member of Cambodia’s royal family in recent decades, and led his Funcinpec party in elections for years after he was ousted.

But in 2017, he displeased’s weak opposition by supporting the dissolution of another party whose leader was imprisoned on treason charges. Since then, Hun Sen has effectively sidelined all opposition and now heads a one-party parliament.

Ranariddh explained to Reuters that year: “… Hun Sen, you like it or you don’t want it, you like it or you don’t like it, it achieves this national unity.”

His younger half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, has occupied the Cambodian throne since the abdication of their father, King Norodom Sihanouk in 2004. Sihanouk died at the age of 89 In 2012 in Beijing.

Lao Mong Hai, a veteran Cambodian analyst, said Ranariddh lacked his father’s political experience.

“His most talented rival soon lost and was ousted,” said Lao Mong Hai, citing a Cambodian proverb that says 10 educated people are less than one talented person. “So it happened that Norodom Ranariddh was one of those ten.”

Ranariddh’s career reflected the way Hun Sen had successfully neutralized his opponents since he broke with the Khmer Rouge’s “kill fields” regime in the late 1970s to help drive him from power.

Hun Sen led the Vietnam-backed communist government in Phnom Penh for more than a decade while the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla insurgency.

The royal family lived in exile during this time, headed by former absolute ruler Sihanouk, who led Cambodia to independence from France and abdicated for the first time to enter democratic politics and become prime minister before the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975.

Ranarid was working as a lecturer in French law when his father called him to run in the 1993 elections organized by the United Nations as part of the peace process.

Powered by royal sentiment, Ranariddh won the election. But when Hun Sen threatened to return to war, a political agreement resulted in a coalition government that made Ranariddh the “first prime minister”, Hun Sen the “second prime minister” and the return of King Sihanouk to the throne as the constitutional monarch.

The uneasy alliance lasted four years before forces loyal to Hun Sen overthrew Pranaridh and were exiled.

After international pressure, Ranariddh was allowed to return and run in the election a year later, but he never came close again to victory and entered into on-and-off alliances with Hun Sen.

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