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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lawyers head for election

Lawyers head for election

The Cambodian Bar Association (CBA) decided by a slim majority on August 9 to hold

elections on October 16 for its presidency and council, aiming to end a long internal

dispute.

Ky Tech, the bar association president who lost an October 2004 election but refused

to relinquish power, said nine of the 18 council members, as well as himself, had

agreed to organize the elections.

"It is a good step toward resolving the dispute," Tech told the Post after

the meeting. "The details of the election procedure will be discussed at the

next meeting."

Tech said nine people wanted to run for the presidency and 48 were eyeing the 18

council seats. They will start campaigning a month before the election day.

However, Suon Visal, who won the 2004 presidency election but was prevented from

assuming the position, was unenthusiastic.

"The bar has already died," Visal said. "He [Tech] did not have the

right to lead the bar. We do not know whether he wants to organize the election or

not; I don't think he is willing to organize it."

Chiv Songhak, a council member who attended the meeting, said if the election process

was trouble-free donors would come back and continue their assistance.

"We need funds; the contributions from the members could not support bar activities,"

Songhak said. "We have to clean up all disputes that have happened in the past."

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. Tech was then president and had four challengers.

In the first round of voting Tech came first with 103 votes, Visal scored 88, Nou

Tepirith 40, Som Chandyna 19 and Puth Theavy 15. As the result did not provide the

majority required under the Bar Association constitution, a second-round ballot was

held between Tech and Visal, with the other candidates eliminated. Tech's vote increased

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

Forgery accusation

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, confirmed him as bar president and ordered him to arrange

a re-election within three months.

On June 2, 2005, the Supreme Court annulled the Appeal Court's decision, and sent

the case back to the Appeal Court for a rehearing.

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 illegal use

of the Bar Association letterhead.

Tech and Visal met several times to try to resolve the dispute but could not reach

agreement. The last meeting was on December 5, 2005, when Tech, Visal and 17 of the

18 council members met at the bar office. After much discussion they agreed to annul

the result of the October 2004 presidency election and have new presidency and council

elections on March 16, 2006. They also agreed that all lawsuits would be withdrawn

from the courts.

However the Appeal Court failed to respond to their request to withdraw all actions,

so the March elections did not proceed.

On July 17, the Appeal Court instructed Tech to organize presidency and council elections

because the Bar Association council had failed to achieve a quorum at six successive

meetings.

On July 28, Tech issued a letter inviting council members to discuss nine items,

two of them about the process of the election preparation and the qualifications

of the presidency and council candidates.

Tech has accused some donors of interfering in Bar Association affairs and prolonging

the internal dispute by backing the Visal party and threatening to cut off funds

if the dispute could not be resolved.

Momoko Hotta, assistant to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) resident

representative, said that Japanese Federation of Bar Associations funding through

JICA for the CBA had ended last year. This year, JICA was instead providing financial

support to the Lawyers' Training Center from April to December 2006, because they

did not want the LTC to stop functioning.

"I think Tech and Visal should sit on the same table to discuss when the new

election should take place to end the dispute," Hotta said. "Not only JICA

but also other donors are really concerned about the undesirable outcomes which the

long dispute has brought."

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