Taking the reins of an organization beset by ongoing criticisms of cronyism and corruption, a little-known private lawyer took the oath of office Thursday as president of the Cambodian Bar Association.
In his first address as president, Ky Tech, 36, promised not to break the bar’s ranks, hailing the “tradition between the leadership of the Bar Association and the government’s proper policies.”
Ky Tech, who narrowly won the office after a runoff with Cambodian Defenders’ Project attorney Soun Visal, also promised to expand Cambodians’ access to legal protection by putting permanent law services in all provincial and municipal courts.
Soun Visal has challenged the election results, alleging that the ballot illegally favored Ky Tech, an untested lawyer not widely known before his election.
Soun Visal singled out outgoing association president Ang Eng Thong for not following election bylaws.
Minister of Cabinet Sok An, who oversaw the ceremony Thursday, gave the embattled association his personal vote of confidence, saying it was much–needed safeguard to foster justice in Cambodia.
“No country can ensure the state of law 100 percent of the time. We should not say, ‘We are establishing a country with the rule of law,’ we should say ‘We are strengthening the rule of law,’” Sok An said.
While sharing that sentiment, some critics have said the bar itself has played a key role in the failure of Cambodia’s judiciary.
The UN’s top human rights official for Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht—himself an international lawyer—has repeatedly criticized the association for restricting its membership to an elite club of poorly trained lawyers.
But Sok An pointed to a new government subdecree handing out 65 million riel (about $16,250) to public defenders’ projects, and the recent decision to raise judges’ salaries—a move Leuprecht and others have also called for—as evidence of an improving situation.