PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's parliament endorsed a new 26-member cabinet on Monday in a rare shuffle of an aging leadership as Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares for a 2018 election set to be his toughest political fight yet.
During his three decades in power Hun Sen has surrounded himself with loyalists and changed ministers rarely. He said the shakeup was among a series of "necessities" to improve the government's performance.
Cambodia now had a more qualified, experienced and healthier cabinet, he said.
"The year 2016 is suitable for the government to check and evaluate again the work of the past half term and issue necessary measures to increase work efficiency," Hun Sen told the National Assembly.
The lineup was supported by 70 of the 107 parliamentarians present on Monday. Most of the changes were reassignments to other portfolios and only two ministers were moved out of the cabinet.
Many of the proposed changes had already been reported and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has dismissed them as cosmetic and unlikely to bring about reforms.
Commerce Secretary of State Pan Sorasak was promoted to minister and Veng Sokhon became minister of agriculture, replacing Ouk Rabun, who is now minister of rural development.
Sun Chanthol, the former commerce minister, became transport minister, replacing Tram Iv Tek, who was given the telecoms portfolio. Hun Sen's close ally Hor Namhong, his foreign minister for 18 years, was replaced by Prak Sokhon, the former telecommunications minister.
Hor Namhong remains in the cabinet as a deputy prime minister.
The gap between Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party and the revamped CNRP was narrowed in a disputed 2013 election that sparked a year-long parliamentary crisis and the opposition party is expected to mount a strong challenge in 2018.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel