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Cambodian Parliament Sworn-In, Opposition Abandons Boycott

Cambodia's new National Assembly was sworn-in Wednesday, giving the Cambodian People's Party a further five-year mandate following its landslide victory in this year's general election. A threatened opposition boycott of the event was abandoned at the last minute, following guarantees from the prime minister that the role of the opposition will be officially recognized. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's newly elected National Assembly has been sworn-in during a traditional ceremony presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni.

All but three parliamentarians attended the event. A threatened boycott by the main opposition parties was abandoned after last-minute negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Opposition lawmakers had called the boycott because they say thousands of their supporters were prevented from voting in July's general elections when their names were illegally removed from voter lists

The ruling Cambodian People's Party won a landslide victory in the elections, taking 90 of the 123 seats available, allowing them to govern without the support of smaller parties for the first time.

According to the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the boycott was abandoned following assurances from Prime Minister Hun Sen the role of the opposition would be officially recognized for the first time under the Assembly's newly adopted internal rules.

"He gave us a guarantee that the opposition in Cambodia would be recognized in the internal rules of the National Assembly - with a full budget, with an opposition leader, with the full immunity of our parliamentarians," said Mu Sochua, the Sam Rainsy Party deputy secretary general.

Speaking to reporters after the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed that he would "include in the internal rules that non-ruling parties are recognized by the government."

Extending an olive branch, he thanked opposition parties for participating in the the swearing-in ceremony, saying that it displayed their "lawmaker knowledge."

According to Mu Sochua, the agreement should allow the opposition to exercise greater checks-and-balances in the new parliament. She said the opposition will use its official opposition status to help tackle the main issues facing the country.

"We have always voiced our concerns over a National Assembly that is a mechanism for checks and balances on the performance of the government. The real issues of the people are land-grabbing, deforestation, corruption and the rights, freedoms and liberties that are enshrined in our constitution," she said.

By attending the swearing-in ceremony, analysts say the opposition parties appear to be tacitly accepting the results of July's disputed general elections. But opposition politicians refused to confirm that they will abandon efforts to overturn the election results.