Outgoing Prime Minister Hun Sen has broken new ground in Cambodia’s political landscape by announcing that a woman will hold the presidential position of the National Assembly (NA) for its seventh mandate.

This announcement was warmly welcomed by civil society organisations.

In an audio message delivered on the night of August 9, Hun Sen also rebuffed claims made on Radio Free Asia (RFA) that alleged power struggle within the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ranks.

His focus, however, was on the historic appointment.

“I would like to inform you that the [NA] presidency has been prepared since the end of 2021. Khuon Sudary, currently the [NA] second vice-president, will become the president. This is a practice to promote the role of women in leadership,” he affirmed.

Other changes include senior lawmaker Cheam Yeap staying on as the NA first vice-president and outgoing social affairs minister Vong Soth becoming its second vice-president.

In response to the RFA’s reports, Hun Sen said: “If you are ignorant, you should seek enlightenment rather than label everything as a CPP internal dispute. I want the RFA and other Khmer-language radios to remember that the CPP does not engage in power struggles that would lead to collapse due to internal conflict as you have experienced.”

Bunn Rachana, the co-founder of Klahann – an “independent” organisation that builds evidence, organises and campaigns on issues that affect women in Cambodia – applauded Sudary’s nomination, though she expressed concern about the lack of women in other senior positions.

Khuon Sudary (centre), currently the [NA] second vice-president, will become the president.Hong Menea

“I feel a sense of congratulations, but I’m also disappointed that there is no increase in the number of women in the senior leadership of the government,” she lamented.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, sees the appointment as a significant honour for the nation.

“This is a landmark moment for Cambodia, and indeed for Southeast Asia. In our country, for the first time, a woman has become the head of the legislature. This achievement is not merely a milestone, it’s a great honour for our nation,” he said.

Peou said the CPP is known for valuing discussion and consensus.

“It’s the CPP’s practice to make decisions and then steadfastly follow the resolutions of the Standing Committee. This approach, known as democracy within the party, reflects the attitude of the CPP leadership and ensures that there is no grab for power after a decision has been made,” he said.

Hailing from Battambang province’s Sangke district, Sudary is a member of the Central Committee of the Cambodian Red Cross.

Her education includes a journalism degree from the International Institute of Journalism in Hungary and a bachelor’s degree in Khmer literature from the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).