Former Cambodian prime minister Norodom Ranariddh
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was Cambodia’s first elected prime minister in the post-Khmer Rouge era, died in France on Sunday at the age of 77.
Ranariddh led the royalist Funcinpec party in the 1993 elections sponsored by the United Nations, following a 1991 peace deal and Vietnam’s withdrawal from the country.
Though his party won that election, the prince eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen and was ousted before the next election.
Ranariddh would remain in and out of politics for the rest of his life, though the relevance of his royalist movement diminished with each passing election.
Hun Sen in a statement on Sunday called Ranariddh “a dignitary, (a) member of the royal family who was patriotic to the nation, religion, the king.” according to Reuters.
Patrick Murphy, the United States ambassador to Cambodia, tweeted his condolences.
Cambodia’s information minister announced Ranariddh’s death, but did not give a cause. The prince had reportedly received medical attention in France on multiple occasions in recent years.
Ranariddh’s brother is King Norodom Sihamoni, who has been a notably apolitical monarch compared to their father, the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Ranariddh won the 1993 election with more than 45 percent of the vote, but tensions between Funcinpec and the Cambodian People’s Party boiled over in a coup against Ranariddh in 1997. At least 32 people were killed in the factional fighting that followed.
Yet Ranariddh would eventually become a tacit ally of the prime minister as new opposition forces gained strength in the country.
In 2017, the prince called for the popular Cambodian National Rescue Party to be dissolved, and now that it has been, his royalist Funcinpec party will be among the more recognizable non-ruling parties in upcoming elections in 2022 and 2023.
Unlike the opposition movement led by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, Ranariddh’s parties have generally avoided direct criticism of Hun Sen and his ruling party.
In an interview with Reuters in 2017, Ranariddh said of Hun Sen “you want or you don’t want, you like him or you don’t like him, he brings about this national unity.”
Ranhariddh’s wife, Ouk Phalla, died in 2018 in a crash that left the prince hospitalized. His party called for an inquiry into the crash, which occurred while the couple was campaigning ahead of national elections.
Funcinpec announced in a statement Sunday that Ranariddh’s body would be repatriated to Cambodia soon, according to the Associated Press.