THE future of the independent Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) seems to be hanging
by a thread, as president Pin Samkhon battles opponents who want to trash his one-vote
election win of Jan 5.
Internal bickering against Samkhon is being led by former secretary-general So Naro
- the editor who wrote the sensational story of the Prince Sirivudh assassination
Naro's Angkor Thmei newspaper has been running a public campaign against the KJA
election result. Naro also wants his old job back, saying he can end the current
The crisis centers around the status of two newspapers who voted for Samkhon in his
16-15 election win - Tudo and New World.
Tudo had been closed by the government before the election, and New World has not
yet begun publishing.
Internal KJA statutes, however, seem to indicate that both papers were eligible to
Observers say that if the Samkhon result is overturned, it will weaken the KJA in
favor of the League of Cambodian Journalists (LCJ) - a pro-government group closely
linked with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
Samkhon has denied any improprieties in the election and says he will not give in
"I never accept giving him [Naro] the post in order to end the problem. It is
like a threat to me. Why should I bow to him as I have not committed any wrong?"
he told the Post.
Naro is picking fights on both sides of the KJA fence - with Samkhon, and Samkhon's
election opponent Tath Ly Hok, who is now the KJA's first vice-president.
Naro and Ly Hok - whose relationship has been indifferent for a long time - are now
publicly calling each other cowards.
Before the election, Naro and Kea Say, editor of Khmer Apyeakret (Khmer Neutral)
newspaper, lobbied Ly Hok to stand for the presidency.
Ly Hok said Naro promised to vote for him, though he added that he made up his own
mind to stand against Samkhon.
After Samkhon's win, Naro "telephoned me to express deep regret and pushed me
to complain", Ly Hok said.
Naro asked for his old job back as secretary general - without a salary - and "he
assured me that he will easily put out the complaint," Ly Hok said.
Ly Hok went on to say that the next day Naro told him that he did not want to become
the secretary general any more - but instead wanted a vote of no-confidence in the
"I completely don't understand [him]," Ly Hok said.
Naro - who has blamed the KJA for distancing themselves from his "unethical"
article on the Sirivudh affair - could not be reached for comment.
On Jan 22 representatives of Naro's Angkor Thmei newspaper led a group of 20 to hold
an extraordinary KJA meeting to discuss a vote of no-confidence in the election.
Naro did not attend for "security" reasons; both Samkhon and Ly Hok attended,
though Samkhon did not chair it.
After four hours of "I-am-right-you-are-wrong" bickering, the meeting ended
in a stalemate.
Samkhon produced KJA statutes that he said proved the voting eligibility of both
Tudo and New World - thereby ensuring his one-vote majority.
Some sources said the debate was very democratic, others said it was anarchic.
Ky Long, a Naro supporter from the state-controlled TVK, characterized KJA's dispute
as "just like worms within the human waste".
Samkhon alleged that meddling by "outside hands", rather than an internal
dispute, had intensified the crisis.
However, he declined to identify them, saying he first wanted to consolidate his
position and to avoid further problems.
Naro's faction has since written to Samkhon asking for another congress but now appears
not to have sufficient support in numbers. Samkhon responded with a statement refusing
to recognize the legitimacy of the faction.
Mike Fowler, KJA/LCJ advisor, stated, "The Asia Foundation will continue to
support the KJA. We don't get involved in the politics of the journalism association
whether Pin Samkhon or Tath Ly Hok is the president."