Legal Aid Lawyer Elected to Head the Bar

A longtime legal aid lawyer was elected president of the Cam­bodian Bar Association on Satur­day, countering a perceived trend that the independent body was adopting a political leaning.

Suon Visal, a lawyer with the Cam­bodian Defenders’ Project, defeated incumbent Ky Tech in a run-off by 19 votes of a total 236 cast.

“I will lead the bar as I have promised,” Suon Visal said  Sun­day, repeating pledges to cut law­yers’ membership dues and focus on marketing lawyers to attract higher salaries. “I will try my best to rebuild the dignity of our lawyers.”

The election of Suon Visal was a surprise to most observers and marks the first time that a lawyer from the legal aid community has assumed the post.

In recent months the bar has been accused of bowing to political interests after taking cash and donations from the CPP-dominated Council of Ministers and, in September, inducting into its ranks four senior CPP officials—Prime Minister Hun Sen, co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Cabinet Minister Sok An and Interior Ministry Secretary of State Prum Sokha.

Ky Tech was the leader after a first round of voting but failed to get a majority, requiring the run-off. Though he said he will accept the election results, Ky Tech chided his other three opponents—Som Chandyna, Nou Tepirith and Puth Theavy—for campaigning on Suon Visal’s behalf after the first round of voting.

“They issued propaganda in the second round,” he said Sun­day.

About 90 percent of the bar’s members voted, a marked in­crease over the average of 50 per­cent par­ticipation in previous elections, Nou Tepirith said.

Suon Visal is expected to bring renewed focus to efforts at offering legal aid throughout the country—a service out of which the lawyer has made his career.

The East West Management Institute, which is handling the allocation of US aid to projects in Cambodia, has plans with the bar to expand its legal aid department.

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