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Opposition VP Takes Over as First Vice President of Assembly

Kem Sokha (C), deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), leaves after voting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh August 26, 2014. Cambodia's opposition on Tuesday boosted its influence in a parliament long controlled by the ruling party, winning a deputy chairman post and assurances of greater legislative sway under a deal to end a year-long political impasse. The election of Kem Sokha as deputy house speaker is one of a slew of concessions by Prime Minister Hun Sen seldom seen during his three-decade grip on politics, reflecting the opposition's newfound power and growing public discontent with an authoritarian premier.

National Assembly members on Tuesday voted via secret ballot for top positions in legislative leadership.

Kem Sokha, vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was appointed first vice president of the Assembly, taking over for Ngoun Ngil, a senior member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, who was elected second vice president of the Assembly.

In all, 122 Assembly members voted in the session, the first vote for the new legislature, which has been without the opposition since July 2013 elections.

There was a tense moment, however, as Kem Sokha moved to take the seat of Ngoun Ngil, who at first refused to move and only did so at the prompting of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who attended the session.

“Why is it so difficult?” Hun Sen chided. “One moves from that seat to this seat, and one walks from this seat to that seat. The end.”

Kem Sokha later told reporters it was a seat given him by Cambodian voters, and one he intends to use to promote electoral reform and to improve the National Assembly.