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Opposition Leader Officially Appointed Minority Leader of Assembly

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (2nd R) shakes hands with Sam Rainsy (2nd L), president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after a meeting at the Senate in central Phnom Penh July 22, 2014.

Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy has officially been appointed the minority leader in the National Assembly, part of political reforms that began in July.

The position will allow him and Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, who was named minority vice chairman, greater influence within the Assembly and provides an official mechanism to discuss issues with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Other appointments include majority positions for the Cambodian People’s Party: Sar Kheng as majority leader, with two deputies, Keat Chhon and Men Sam An.

The Jan. 20 appointments come from amendments to the internal rules of the Assembly and were widely welcomed by many political observers.

The minority positions will help in Assembly negotiations, as well as in top-level talks on national affairs, Kem Sokha told VOA Khmer. “These are both mechanisms we now have.”

The CPP won 68 of 123 Assembly seats in the 2013 election. The Rescue Party won 55, though it claimed widespread fraud had cost it a win.

Koul Panha, head of the election-monitoring group Comfrel, said the appointments are an official recognition of the opposition’s role in parliament.

“In the past, we did not have this,” he said. “The ruling party just did whatever it wanted, arbitrarily making decisions on its own, and it has never talked over national issues. But now this mechanism in parliament is an impressive and positive one.”

Hang Puthea, head of the watchdog group Nicfec, said the appointment is a sign of agreement between the two sides, and a move toward a balance of power.

He called it a “double opportunity” for the opposition, to have influence in parliament and the ability to discuss issues with Hun Sen.

Both observers wondered, though, if the opposition would truly have the power to call Hun Sen for questioning over executive branch decisions, and whether the ruling party will cooperate with the opposition in other matters, such as more democratic reforms.