An election slated for early August could unseat Sokimex petroleum tycoon Sok Kong from his six year tenure as president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce, Nang Sothy, deputy secretary of the chamber’s executive board said Wednesday.
On either Aug 7 or Aug 8, about 40 members of the chamber, which includes a host of Cambodia’s most powerful and enigmatic businessmen, will cast secret votes to decide who will head it for the next three years, Nang Sothy said.
“Sok Kong has been president for six years already because he’s doing a good job,” said Diep Leng, deputy director general of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce.
The Phnom Penh chamber’s roles include promoting investment in Cambodia and mediating business disputes.
Sorn Sokna, vice chairman of Sokimex, is a vice president of the chamber, while Heu Hang, Sokimex general manager, is a chamber member.
Other chamber vice presidents include Ly Yong Phat, the CEO of Hero King CO Ltd, according to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce Handbook. Ly Yong Phat is thought to be highly influential in the running of Koh Kong province.
Sorn Sokna said he could not predict whether Sok Kong will win, but added that he was responsible for building the chamber’s headquarters. Sok Kong “has helped a lot,” Sorn Sokna said.
According to the handbook, Phnom Penh chamber members include Lav Meng Khin, chairman of controversial land development company Pheapimex, Kith Meng, chairman of the Royal Group of companies which owns MobiTel, and Mong Reththy of the Mong Reththy Group.
Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampot provinces and Sihanoukville all have chambers of commerce, while new ones are set to start in Kandal and Kompong Cham provinces in the coming months, Nang Sothy said.
Nang Sothy declined to reveal who might be strong enough to run against Sok Kong, while Kith Meng rejected speculation that he might do so.
Prior to Sok Kong, scandal-plagued tycoon Teng Bunma headed the chamber, Mike Davis of Global Witness said.
Following the bloody factional fighting of 1997, Teng Bunma bragged of giving Prime Minister Hun Sen $1 million during the conflict. On one occasion when an airline lost his luggage, Teng Bunma shot out the tires of a plane at Phnom Penh International Airport.
In 1997, he was barred from entering the US. A US State Department official said at the time that the US government suspected Teng Bunma was involved in drug trafficking. Teng Bunma has denied the allegations.
The chamber “has much improved over the past three years, no question,” Tim Smyth, managing director of Indochina Research, said.
But he added that the chamber could improve on its leadership, and that its members could adopt more transparent practices in their own businesses. The council also should do more to help small and medium enterprises, he said.
On Aug 6, small and large businesses from Phnom Penh will elect 25 new council members who will go on to vote for the president, Nang Sothy said.
Half a dozen market vendors said Wednesday that they will likely vote, but said they were too scared to give their names.
“I got $10 for the last time. I don’t know what we’ll get this time,” said a 46-year-old vendor from Kompong Cham province selling belts and wallets at Phsar Thmei. “I don’t remember who I voted for, I just took [the money],” she said.
A 50-year-old vendor from Kandal province at the same market said the last chamber vote did not improve business. “I don’t understand how voting can help,” she said. “The size of my shop is still like this. Nothing changes.”