PHNOM PENH, Cambodia >> Prince Norodom Ranariddh, a key leader in post-civil war Cambodia, has returned from two years of retirement to lead the party bearing his name ahead of upcoming elections, a spokesman said Sunday.
Ranariddh, 68, was elected new president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party at a party congress Saturday in the capital, Phnom Penh, party spokesman Pen Sangha said.
“The party members felt that only the prince has enough ability to lead the party,” Pen Sangha said.
Cambodia is to hold local elections in 2012 and general elections in 2013.
Ranariddh is a son of retired King Norodom Sihanouk, from whom he took over leadership of Funcinpec, a former armed resistance movement against a Vietnamese-installed government in the 1980s.
Ranariddh converted Funcinpec into a royalist party that won U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993. The elections were part of a peace process following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and were aimed at ending three decades of civil war.
Ranariddh served as a co-prime minister with the country’s current leader, Hun Sen, before being toppled by the latter in a two-day armed clash in 1997.
Ranariddh’s political popularity declined and he was dismissed as president of Funcinpec in 2006 for alleged incompetence. Soon afterward, his former supporters in the party sued the prince for allegedly embezzling $3.6 million. Ranariddh fled the country, and in March 2007 was convicted on embezzlement charges and sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison.
The prince formed a new political party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won only two of 123 parliamentary seats in July 2008 elections while he living in exile, mostly in Malaysia.
In September 2008, Ranariddh’s half brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, granted him a pardon for the embezzlement conviction. With his name cleared, the prince returned home from exile. A week after arriving in Cambodia, he announced he was quitting politics and retiring as head of his party, without providing a reason.
Since December 2008, Ranariddh has held the post of chief adviser to the king as head of the Supreme Privy Advisory Council. The post gave him a rank formally equivalent to that of prime minister, but without political power.
Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Thursday that he would propose to the king that Ranariddh’s privy council role be revoked once he returns to politics.