Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was ousted as Cambodia's prime minister by a bloody coup in 1997, launched his latest political comeback Monday, pledging an alliance with the man who toppled him.
The link between royalist supporters of 71-year-old Ranariddh and current strongman premier Hun Sen is likely to complicate the political scene in coming years for the opposition party of Sam Rainsy.
Ranariddh, son of the beloved late monarch Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of the current king, said he was resuming leadership of the Funcinpec party founded by his father in order to work with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh -- the son of late monarch Norodom Sihanouk -- speaks to media during a press conference in Phnom Penh, on January 5, 2015 ©Tang Chhin Sothy (AFP)
"Prime Minister Hun Sen told the king that he supports my return to Funcinpec," the prince, who was prime minister from 1993 to 1997, told reporters.
"Funcinpec will join hands with the CPP to maintain the sustainable development of Cambodia," he said, adding his aim was to reunite royalists with the ruling party to "eliminate poverty" in the kingdom.
While less revered than his father, the politically ambitious Ranariddh remains popular, although his reputation has been battered in recent years by allegations of corruption.
He was pardoned in 2008 over a conviction for fraud which saw him ejected from the Funcinpec party.
He twice re-entered politics under the banner of his own Norodom Ranariddh Party, but both forays were shortlived and in 2012 he stepped down voluntarily, with senior royalists seeing him as a divisive figure.
Ranariddh announced another comeback to politics in March last year by founding a new Community of the Royalist People Party. On Monday he said this party would now be folded into Funcinpec, which he would formally take over on January 19.
Analyst Carl Thayer, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said that while Funcinpec was no longer a major political player -- it failed to win a single seat in 2013 elections -- the prince's return could be "a move to open up a third front" in Cambodian politics.
His comeback could prove a distraction to Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party, which is trying to wrest parliamentary concessions from Hun Sen as it builds its base towards elections in 2018.
"By allowing him back, Sam Rainsy will be distracted and has to respond," Thayer said, adding Hun Sen's endorsement of the prince's return shows the strongman is still very much in charge.
Hun Sen, 62, a former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected and oversaw Cambodia's rise from the ashes of war, has ruled for nearly three decades and vowed to continue until he is 74.