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Cambodian lawmakers appoint new electoral body in bid to ensure vote fairness

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a vote to remake the country's electoral body on Thursday, part of a political deal to help ensure fairness in the next national vote in 2018.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy praised the move, calling it a "historic milestone for Cambodia."

Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party had criticized the previous electoral commission for being biased and disputed results of the 2013 ballot, triggering a political crisis and mass demonstrations that eased amid negotiations with the government last year.

The new commission will be comprised of four members from Rainsy's party, four from strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen's party, and one neutral slot that will go to the head of an independent electoral watchdog group.

Hun Sen's authoritarian government has been in power for almost three decades and is known for intimidating opponents. The opposition's showing at the polls in 2013 had posed the biggest challenge to Hun Sen in years.

Thursday's vote passed Cambodia's lower house of parliament with 113 of 117 lawmakers in favor. The measure still needs to be adopted by the Senate, but that is considered a formality.

Speaking to National Assembly members Thursday, Hun Sen urged the new leadership of National Election Committee "to perform their duty with full responsibility before the face of the nation and history, and to set a standard for democracy and pluralism."

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