PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh returned to politics Saturday with a vow to reinvigorate the flagging royalist movement, taking the helm of his former party which has re-adopted his name.
Two years after quitting politics, Prince Ranariddh, who was Cambodia's first elected prime minister in 1993 after years of civil war, was re-instated as president of the party he created during a meeting in the capital.
Party members also agreed to re-name the Nationalist Party the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP).
The 66-year-old son of former king Norodom Sihanouk said in a speech that he was returning to politics to re-unite royalists ahead of 2012 local elections and a 2013 general election.
"I have seen that the royalists are hopeless, separated, I want them to be one family," he said.
Ranariddh called for an alliance with fellow royalist party Funcinpec, with him as leader.
"The prince wants to create a new party called Funcinpec 81 before 2012," party spokesman Pen Sangha told AFP. "The ball is now in the court of Funcinpec."
Ranariddh has been off the political scene since late 2008, when he said he was quitting the opposition after receiving a royal pardon on fraud charges and returning from self-imposed exile in Malaysia.
The prince's political career had begun with great promise when he won Cambodia's UN-sponsored election in 1993 as head of the royalist Funcinpec party.
However, he was forced to accept Hun Sen as co-prime minister, who then staged a coup in 1997.
In following elections, Ranariddh's voter appeal diminished as he entered into coalition agreements with Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.
In 2006, he was ejected from Funcinpec over fraud allegations involving the illegal sale of the party's headquarters. He formed the NRP shortly afterwards.
The prince was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in jail over the fraud charges the following year but was later pardoned.
The NRP won just two parliamentary seats in Cambodia's 2008 general election, as did Funcinpec. The NRP then changed its name to the Nationalist Party.
Both parties have in the past expressed an interest in merging to improve the royalist movement's flagging fortunes.
Hun Sen warned the prince earlier this week that if he was coming back to politics, he would not be able to stay on as an adviser to Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni, Ranariddh's half-brother.