Former Cambodian Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the king’s half-brother 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.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he received the information from the royal palace. The prince, whose royalist political party won elections in 1993, was ousted in a 1997 coup by coalition partner Hun Sen, who remains Cambodia’s authoritarian leader today.
In a condolence letter sent to Ranariddh’s wife, Hun Sen said her death signified “the loss of an outstanding royal dignitary who loved nation, religion and the king.”
Ranariddh was the most political member of Cambodia’s royal family in recent decades, continuing to lead the Funcinpec party to run for office for years after his ouster.
But in 2017, he dismayed opponents of Hun Sen by supporting the dissolution of another political party whose leader was jailed for treason.
Ranariddh said there was no choice but to work with Hun Sen, who has since sidelined all opposition parties and now chairs a one-party parliament.
Explaining his position, Ranariddh said that year: “Hun Sen, you want or you don’t want, you love him or you don’t love him, he achieves this national unity.
Her younger half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, has sat on the throne of Cambodia as constitutional monarch since the abdication of their legendary father, King Norodom Sihanouk, in 2004. Sihanouk died at the age of 89 in 2012 in Beijing.
Ranariddh’s career has illustrated not only the fluctuations in Cambodian politics, but also how Hun Sen has neutralized all his rivals since his defection from the Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s to help remove him from power.
Hun Sen led the Communist government in Phnom Penh, backed by neighbor Vietnam for more than a decade, while the Khmer Rouge led a guerrilla insurgency.
The large Cambodian royal family lived in exile during this period, led by the former absolute ruler, King Sihanouk, who led Cambodia to independence from France and then abdicated for the first time to enter politics and become Prime Minister.
Ranariddh grew up in France and was working as a professor of French law when his father called on him to lead a party to challenge the 1993 United Nations elections as part of a peace process.
With strong royalist sentiment, Ranariddh defeated Hun Sen’s former Communist Party that year. But when Hun Sen threatened to resume war, a political agreement resulted in a rival coalition government that made Ranariddh the “first prime minister” and Hun Sen “second prime minister”.
The uneasy coalition lasted only four years. Ranariddh was forced into exile in 1997 after his forces were defeated by those of Hun Sen in bloody clashes in Phnom Penh.
He was pardoned in 2008 for a fraud conviction that saw him kicked out of the Funcinpec party and made two other failed political returns.
In 2015, he formed an unexpected alliance with the man who overthrew him, returning to Funcinpec to work with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.
Personal tragedy followed three years later when his second wife, Ouk Phalla, 39, was killed in a car crash while campaigning with him.
Funcinpec said in a statement that Ranariddh’s body would be repatriated soon, while Patrick Murphy, the US ambassador to Cambodia, tweeted his condolences.