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Bar Association chief elected

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Soun Visal casts his vote in the ballot box to elect the new president of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia at the Phnom Penh Hotel on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

Bar Association chief elected

Soun Visal clinched the presidential seat at the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC).

Visal, the current BAKC president, won a landslide 930 out of 1,393 votes after competing in the Tuesday election with rival candidate Sam Sokong who received 288 votes.

The election is held every two years and any lawyer with disciplinary warnings on their record was not allowed to run. Lawyers must be members of the BAKC for three years before they are allowed to run for president.

Upon securing his second presidential term at the BAKC, Visal, 53, pledged to work harder to protect the association’s legacy, improve the lawyers’ quality and moral conduct, and mitigate corruption in the Kingdom’s legal system.

He said he would complete all ongoing projects that the BAKC is responsible for, such as the construction of consultation rooms for lawyers and clients at prisons across the Kingdom.

Others are capacity building of lawyers in the provinces – including adding their numbers outside the capital and providing them with more work – and enhancing partnerships with the body’s international counterparts.

“The BAKC will continue raising the quality of [Cambodian lawyers] so they become as good as those of other countries. We want to advocate professionalism and high moral conduct in our lawyers."

“Prior to the election, the BAKC had been achieving reforms in the legal system to provide greater leeway for the lawyers in working on cases,” he said, noting that the process adhered to the association’s legal charters.

Some people, he said, work as lawyers [even though they are unqualified], some act as brokers to receive commissions from land title registrations or from customs and commercial work at the local level … they are doing our job! Next year, I will find more opportunities for our lawyers,” he said.

Soun Visal studied at the University of San Francisco School of Law in the US and qualified as a legal instructor in 1995.

He earned a Master of Laws in International Human Rights from the University of Hong Kong in 2002 and was also a member of Nuon Chea’s defence team at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

His rival at the election, Sam Sokong, had been a member of the court-dissolved CNRP’s defence team and supported activists since the 2013 general election.

Rights group Adhoc spokesperson Soeng Sen Karona said the race was designed for those who have more “resources” – referring to support from political parties.

Sokong, he said, did not have enough support from the parties to win.

“The election was held fairly, but the opportunity to collect votes was not fair. The BAKC is an independent institution, but we see that it involves political parties. This competition doesn’t take merit into account, but is politically motivated,” he claimed.

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