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Journalists union gets those democracy blues

Journalists union gets those democracy blues

THE embattled Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) faces a possible leadership impasse

after president Pin Samkhon this month won re-election by the merest of margins.

A bid to scrap the election result and hold a fresh ballot is being threatened, after

Samkhon beat rival candidate Tath Ly Hok by one vote to retain the presidency at

a KJA congress on Jan 5.

Tath Ly Hok - the KJA's first vice-president and deputy editor of the government-owned

Kampuchea newspaper - said he accepted the election result but some of his supporters

did not.

"For me, frankly, I tell you I have no problem because I agreed to the result...but

if my supporters are unhappy, there are other ways they can complain."

Hok said a new election was possible, under KJA internal rules, if one-third of the

association's central committee signed a petition calling for a new congress to be

held.

If that happened, he said, "I think I can win."

Hok said that some of his friends had alleged "irregularities" in the Jan

5 election, but he did not believe there had been anything improper.

Meanwhile, Samkhon said he had heard some members were signing a petition but he

had not seen it.

He was not sure whether the petition supporters "want my head" but he said

they had expected Tath Ly Hok to win and "they are disappointed."

Samkhon acknowledged the closeness of the vote was a "message" to him.

He said he had his critics for being "too strict in my job. People don't understand

me when I do anything. Maybe I need to explain more to the people."

But Samkhon said he and Hok, who was re-elected first vice-president after losing

his bid for Samkhon's job, were friends who could work "maturely" together.

Samkhon won 16 votes, Hok got 15, and a third candidate got two votes at the Jan

5 congress. Five of the 38 newspaper, television or radio representatives deemed

eligible to vote were absent.

Allegations of election irregularities are believed to center on representatives

of newspapers which are no longer published - including the Vietnamese-language Tudo,

ordered closed by the government - being allowed to vote.

But both Samkhon and Hok agreed that the election rules allowed all newspapers which

paid their membership fees to vote, even if they were not publishing.

Among those believed to be most unhappy with the election result are Kea Say, who

stood to become vice-president if Hok had won, and dumped KJA secretary-general So

Naro.

Samkhon - under KJA rule changes made last month making the secretary-general an

appointed, not elected, position - has replaced Naro with the former deputy secretary-general

Chau Sreng.

Naro thrust himself and the KJA into controversy in November with his Angkor Thmei

newspaper article believed to have contributed to Prince Norodom Sirivudh's arrest

and exile.

Samkhon's treatment of Naro over the article, which both have acknowledged was unethical,

is said to have contributed to dissatisfaction among Naro's friends in the KJA.

But Hok said the Naro affair was only one of several reasons why "many newspapers

are unhappy at Pin Samkhon."

He said Samkhon was accused of using the KJA's headquarters and its equipment to

produce his own newspaper Khmer Ekareach (Khmer Independent), and of engaging in

political activities.

Hok said some people believed that Samkhon was effectively the secretary-general

of the Democratic Party led by In Tam and that he would stand in the next general

election.

"I myself have seen Mr In Tam come to the headquarters of the KJA to visit him

[Samkhon]. I want Mr Pin Samkhon to think about his actions."

Saying that he expected Samkhon to resign before he began any politicking, Hok added

that "I have no [political] ambitions like that."

Samkhon replied that any newspaper was free to use the KJA's equipment and premises,

and pay for materials they used.

On his political ambitions, Samkhon said he had worked for the Democratic Party in

the past but was now just an ordinary party member.

He said he would "absolutely" resign from the KJA if he ever became an

office-holder in a political party.

"I don't know what will happen next month, or in the next few months...but today

I run a free press [association]."

Meanwhile, Samkhon's re-election has attracted fierce criticism in several newspapers

aligned to the rival League of Cambodian Journalists (LCJ).

A KJA meeting was called this week to discuss preparing an official response to allegations

of election rigging published in newspapers such as the generally pro-government

Koh Santepheap.

The KJA has been under considerable pressure, losing half its member organizations

since the LCJ was formed in June in what many observers saw as a politically-motivated

bid to destroy the KJA.

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