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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bar Association dispute still up in air

Bar Association dispute still up in air

An election for the Cambodian Bar Association (CBA) presidency and council, scheduled

for March 16 and intended to put an end to two years of internal warfare, has been

delayed while the association waits for a decision from the Court of Appeal on the

disputed previous election.

Ly Tay Seng, acting general secretary of CBA, said that on February 27 the Appeal

Court had been scheduled to hear a motion put forward by the plaintiffs to annul

the October 2004 election result, and all legal actions resulting from it, and hold

a new election. But the hearing was postponed because the presiding judge was sick.

Tay Seng said if the court hears the case in March the election will be held in late

April or early May.

He said the two rivals from the 2004 election - Suon Visal, who won but was denied

his seat by the court, and Ky Tech, who lost but refused to stand down - were both

running again.

On October 16, 2004, the CBA held an election for a two-year presidential term just

weeks after several high-ranking government officials from the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) joined the bar. Ky Tech was then president. He had four challengers,

among them Suon Visal of the non-profit Cambodian Defenders' Project.

In the first round of voting Ky Tech came first with 103 votes and Suon Visal second

with 88. Nou Tepirith got 40 votes, Som Chandyna 19, and Puth Theavy 15. The result

did not provide the majority necessary under the Bar Association constitution, so

a second ballot was held between Tech and Visal, with the other candidates eliminated.

Tech's vote increased to 108, but Visal's increased to 127, giving him a clear win.

Ten days later, Tech and his followers rejected the election result and filed a claim

with the Appeal Court. On November 19, 2004, in a closed-door hearing, the court

found in favor of Tech and confirmed him as president. That decision was annulled

by the Supreme Court on June 2, 2005, which sent the case back to the Appeal Court.

On June 27, 2005, Tech and his supporters filed another complaint to Phnom Penh municipal

court against Visal and his colleagues, accusing them of forgery and illegally using

bar letterhead.

On December 5, 2005, Tech, Visal and 17 of the 19 Bar Association council members

met at the bar office, and after long hours of discussion agreed to annul the result

of the October 2004 presidency election and organize a new presidency and council

election for March, 16, 2006. It was agreed that all lawsuits would be withdrawn

from the courts.

The agreement was sent to the general prosecutor at the Appeal Court, Hanrot Raken,

on December 26, 2005. He congratulated the parties and forwarded the agreement to

the court for its consideration. There it remains.

The CBA has been accepting applications for the bar presidency and council seats

since February 20 and the deadline is March 20.

"The candidates have one month for campaigning after the deadline and end within

48 hours before an election," Tay Seng said.

Nou Tepirith, who failed the 2004 bar presidency election, said he had reapplied

for the 2006 election and was confident he could defeat other popular candidates

in a new mandate.

"I was encouraged by friends and I hope to get at least 60 to 70 percent from

voters," Tepirith said. "I'm applying because I think of the bar's interests."

Tepirith said he believed voters might feel wary of voting for Tech or Visal as the

two had been such strong competitors in the past and their dispute had adversely

affected the interests of the bar.

"I think the problem will recur if one of them [Visal or Tech] won the election,"

he said.

Som Chandyna, another 2004 bar presidency candidate, said he would not stand for

the 2006 election because he had other things to do and did not want to compete with

people who were only thinking about their personal interests.

"I am still concerned about the next election results," Chandyna said.

"Until now nobody is talking about the election procedure."

He said the CBA had been inactive ever since the dispute began and many donor countries

had cut off funding.

"The new CBA president should have the will to help poor people rather than

thinking of personal interest," he said.

When contacted by the Post, Tech declined comment and referred the question to Tay

Seng. Visal could not be reached for comment.

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