LAOTIAN ECONOMY UNDER THE PATHET LAO
Under the Pathet Lao, Laos had a centrally planned, isolationist economy. Shops closed down in 1975, many merchants fled to Thailand.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Laotian Communist government largely followed the failed economic path of Vietnam. It first followed the failed Communist policies of the 1970s and early 80s and then opened up somewhat with economic reforms in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
In some cases reformist moves made by Laos preceded those of Vietnam. Laos adopted chintanakarnmay, the equivalent of perestroika, in the mid 1980s—before Vietnam launched its reforms in 1986—to promote economic development abandoning centralized economic planning. Since then the country has improved but still remains very poor.
Laos was largely untouched by the phenomenal growth take part in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The economy stagnated in the 1970s and 1980s as result of Maoist-style agrarian socialism.
Economic Reforms in Laos Under the Pathet Lao
By 1979 it was clear that policies had to change. Kaysone announced that people could leave cooperatives and farm their own land, and that private enterprise would be permitted. That year Vietnam invaded Cambodia to dispose of the Khmer Rouge, and China invaded northern Vietnam to teach Hanoi a lesson. Laos sided with Vietnam, and relations with China deteriorated. They were no better with Thailand, which was supporting insurgency against the Vietnamese-installed regime in Cambodia. [Source:
Despite the many obstacles to economic development that remained in the early 1990s, however, in little more than a decade, starting in 1979, the government had deliberately shifted the focus of its economic policy away from socialist goals and has made great strides. Many state-owned enterprises, which had been draining the nation's treasury through subsidies, were privatized, and tax collection was boosted tremendously, helping to bring the fiscal deficit under control. Liberal laws on foreign investment and trade were passed, precipitating a surge of investment activity. Prices of many commodities were freed from government controls, domestic transport restrictions were lifted, and the cooperative farming system was ended. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The Seventh Resolution, passed at a plenary session of the Central Committee by the ruling Phak Pasason Pativat Lao (Lao People's Revolutionary Party--LPRP) in late 1979, marked the start of the country's shift toward a market-oriented economy. The resolution affirmed the government's commitment to begin to open to a market economy, as the necessary path to economic development. Since its inception in 1975, the government, in theory, has recognized private property and private enterprise. However, they were not encouraged, and, in fact, the provincial governments of Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) and Phôngsali abolished private trade and traders through 1987. The objectives of the First FiveYear Plan (1981-85) included self-sufficiency in food production, defined as the equivalent of 350 kilograms of paddy rice and other foodstuffs per capita per year, and the collectivization of agriculture. The plan also focused on developing industrial activity, increasing trade with Thailand, improving the shattered rural infrastructure, and increasing export revenues, all goals that received much greater attention as the tentative steps toward a market-oriented economy continued. However, growth during the plan period was slower than had been anticipated, and the government decided to take bolder steps toward reform.
Bolder Economic Reforms in the 1980s
In 1986, the Laotian government introduced market-economy reforms, called Chintanakhan Mai (“New Thinking,” and translated by some as “New Economic Mechanism") that encouraged private-sector economic activity and reversed its policy on the collectivization of agriculture. The Vietnamese made a similar move around the same time.
The hammer and sickle was removed from the national seal; the banking system was liberalized; farmers were allowed to own land and livestock and sell surplus goods at the local markets. Local markets opened up all over the country and the trade of all kinds of goods was tolerated. Many people got into the act. In the early 1990s, one writer noticed the minister of finance selling quail eggs in Vientiane’s Morning Market each day before he showed up at his government office. The impoverished Russian Embassy sold vodka.
At the Fourth Party Congress in 1986, the Second Five-Year Plan (1986-90) was endorsed, and new national development strategy was introduced. The New Economic Mechanism, as this program was called, was designed to expose the economy to world market forces gradually, without sacrificing the nation's goal of food selfsufficiency . To implement this plan, many facets of the economy were decentralized. Although the central authorities continued to set policy guidelines, responsibility for administering and financing many programs for economic and social development was delegated to the provinces. About a year after the congress, the new policy was promulgated into regulations, and changes became rapid and extensive. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The second plan also sought to encourage foreign and private investment. Among the reforms called for under the New Economic Mechanism were the lifting of numerous trade regulations and the creation of opportunities for foreign investment. In a major shift from its economic dependency on Vietnam, Laos began to look toward Thailand--and, later, toward other socialist countries--for private investment, technology transfer, and trade. Through the improvement of transportation and communications systems, encouragement of the private sector, and development of the agroforestry industrial processing sector, it was hoped that nonfood imports could be reduced and exports increased, thus improving the balance of payments. Although Laos showed an overall balance of payments surplus in 1985 and 1986, the current account deficit had been increasing, and during those years exports financed less than 30 percent of imports. The government took a new interest in environmental protection and sought to limit the practice of swidden, or slash-and-burn cultivation as a means of protecting its forest resources and encouraging cash cropping. It proved difficult, however, to bring about such a change because of negative effects on upland farmers' livelihoods. Traditional swidden agriculture does not adversely affect forest resources to the same extent that commercial exploitation does. *
Impact of the Economic Reforms on Laos
Reforms were insufficient to improve the Lao economy. Over the next three years a struggle took place within the Party about what to do. The Soviet Union was getting tired of propping up the Lao regime, and was embarking on its own momentous reforms. Meanwhile Vietnam had Cambodia to worry about. Eventually Kaysone convinced the Party to do what the Chinese were doing: open the economy up to market forces, and the country to foreign aid and investment from the West, while retaining a tight monopoly on political power. The economic reforms were known as the ‘new economic mechanism’, and were enacted in November 1986. [Source: Lonely Planet =]
Economic improvement was slow in coming, partly because relations with Thailand remained strained. In August 1987 the two countries fought a brief border war over disputed territory. The following year relations were patched up, and with China too. The first elections for a National Assembly were held, and a constitution at last promulgated. Slowly a legal framework was put into place, and by the early 1990s foreign direct investment was picking up and the economy was on the mend. =
Since the late 1980s, Laos has achieved sustained growth, averaging six percent a year since 1988, except during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Recently Laos has normalised its trade relations with the United States and the European Union has provided funds to Laos enable Laos to meet its debt obligations.
Laos in the 1990s
Kaysone died in November 1992, and was succeeded by Nuhak Phumsavan as president and by General Khamtay Siphandone, as party leader, the effective ruler of the country. Phomvihane had been the leading figure in Lao communism for more than a quarter of a century. The Party managed the transition to a new leadership with smooth efficiency, much to the disappointment of expatriate Lao communities abroad. The rise of General Siphandone signalled control of the Party by the revolutionary generation of military leaders.
The economic prosperity of the mid-1990s rested on increased investment and foreign aid, on which Laos remained very dependent. The Lao PDR enjoyed friendly relations with all its neighbours. Relations with Vietnam remained particularly close, but were balanced by much improved relations with China. Relations with Bangkok were bumpy at times, but Thailand was a principal source of foreign direct investment. In 1997 Laos joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). [Source: Lonely Planet =]
The good times came to end with the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. The collapse of the Thai baht led to inflation of the Lao kip, to which it was largely tied through trading relations. The Lao regime took two lessons from this crisis: one was about the dangers of market capitalism; the other was that its real friends were China and Vietnam, both of which came to its aid with loans and advice. =
The economic crisis sparked some political unrest. A small student demonstration calling for an end to the monopoly of political power by the LPRP was ruthlessly crushed and its leaders given long prison sentences. Lao dissidents in Thailand attacked a border customs post, provoking a swift Lao military response. A series of small bombings in Vientiane and southern Laos was also blamed on expatriate Lao dissidents, while Hmong ‘brigands’ attacked transport in the north. The government responded by increasing security, with good effect. By 2004 the Hmong insurgency had all but collapsed. =
Attacks, Bombings and Protests in the 2000s
In 2000, there was a string of 15 or explosions in Vientiane—including ones at a restaurant, a bus station, a marketplace, a hotel and on a bus—as well as in Savannakhet and Paks. In Vientiane, one person was killed in a blast at the airport, six Western tourists were hurt when a grenade was thrown in a restaurant and 15 Laotians were injured by a crude bomb that exploded in a downtown market. A bomb was found at the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane. Another was defused at Vientiane’s domestic airport.
The government denied any bombing took place and said some explosions from left over Vietnam War ordnance may have been ignited by bonfire. When pressed they blamed Hmong insurgents. Many foreign analysts doubted that was the case. The bombs seem to have been set off with no apparent plan and no one claimed responsibility.
All the attacks used either grenades or small homemade bombs. Many think they were connected with business or personal disputes. Some think the attacks were believed to be part of an effort to embarrass the government by showing it was incapable of maintaining order despite devoting a great deal of resources to security.
After the attacks reforms were put in hold and the government retreated to authoritarian Communism and improved relations with China and Vietnam at the expense of the West. There was increased repression and press restrictions.
Some foreign donors re-evaluated their positions in Laos. The World Bank halved its aid to Laos to $25 million (cuts due to cut backs not punishment). The U.S. cancelled a $3.1 million project and Japan, Sweden and Australia shied away from allocating more money for new projects. The United States passed a resolution condemning Laos’s human rights record and threatened to impose sanctions.
See Separate Article HMONG INSURGENCY IN LAOS
Nouhak Phoumsavanh was the president of Laos from 1992 to 1998 and a founding member of its ruling communist party. He was considered to be the No. 2 figure in the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party from the late 1950s into the 1990s. A biography of Mr. Nouhak posted on the KPL Web site said he was one of the founders of the Laotian revolutionary movement in 1945, when Laos — like neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia — was a French colony. He was a representative of the Lao Patriotic Front in 1954 at the conference that resulted in the so-called Geneva Agreements on Indochina, which gave the three countries their independence. [Source: Associated Press, September 12, 2008 \\\\]
When the country’s communist party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, was formally founded the next year, he was elected a member of its central committee, and from then until the late 1990s he served in senior party posts. From the late 1950s, the communist movement — with strong support from North Vietnam — was engaged in a long struggle for power. At times it was part of a neutralist government, but later it fought a bitter war with a royalist government backed by the United States. After the communist victory in 1975, Mr. Nouhak was appointed vice prime minister and finance minister. He went on to serve in several other senior government positions. In 1992 he was selected the country’s president after the death of his longtime senior comrade, Kaysone Phomvihane. Mr. Nouhak held the job until 1998, when he was succeeded by Khamtay Siphandone, another veteran of the revolutionary struggle. Nouhak died in September 2008 at the age of 98. \\\\
Lao People’s Revolutionary Party in the 2000s
After Kaysone died in 1992, he was succeeded by Nuhak Phumsavan as president and by Khamtay Siphandone, as party leader and the effective ruler of the country. In 1998 Nuhak General Sisavath Keobounphanh became Prime Minister in 1998, and was succeeded in 2001 by Boungnang Vorachith. When Khamtay stepped down in 2006, he was succeeded by his close comrade, General Chummaly Sayasone.
In the early 2000s, many leaders in Laos were in their 70s and 80s, the Laotian government was racked by factional infighting, in many cases between old hardliners and younger more reform- minded leaders as well as between those that followed the Vietnamese model and those that sought a uniquely Lao solution to the country’s problems. When asked about the wave of bombings in 2000, one Western diplomat joked they were set off by “septuagenarians in the politburo” who were “trying to get rid of the octogenarians.”
At the 2001 Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Congress, Prime Minister Sisavath Keobounphanh was forced to resign. Western analysts said he was a scapegoat for the government’s mismanagement of the economy. He was replaced by 64-year-old Bunyang Vorachit, who formally held the positions of finance minister and vice prime minister. Three younger generation members were added to the Politburo. Chunmaly Sayasone was named to post of vice president. He had earlier served as vice prime minister and defense minister.
The communist party retains a monopoly of political power, but leaves the operation of the economy to market forces, and does not interfere in the daily lives of the Lao people provided they do not challenge its rule. The media is state controlled, but most Lao have free access to Thai radio and television and Internet access is available in most towns. Lao people are also fairly free to travel.
Vibe in Laos in the Early 2000s
In February 2002, The Economist reported: ““The United Nations Development Programme ranks Laos between Nepal and Bangladesh in terms of general development. Almost half of Laotian children are stunted; more than half of Laotian adults are illiterate and half of the population as a whole lives below the government's own poverty line. Faced with these dire figures, the government has instituted a degree of market reform. [Source: The Economist , February 28, 2002 /*\]
But the government, too, is poor. A third of its income comes from foreign aid. Much of that goes towards badly-needed infrastructure. But plenty is going astray, if the porticoed villas and snazzy cars of Vientiane's apparatchiks are anything to judge by. Ordinary Laotians, so mild in other respects, have begun to gripe about corruption. In the meantime, according to the UN, the share of wealth in the hands of the richest 10 percent of the population has reached 30.6 percent. Something for the next party congress to ponder, perhaps. /*\
In April 2001, The Economist reported: This is a country of detention without trial, and with a mismanaged economy unable to lift the majority of the people out of poverty. Its veteran leader, Khamtay Siphandone, was routinely reappointed president of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party at its congress in March. Mr Siphandone calls the state-run newspaper “a propagandist, a mass mobiliser”, and means it as a compliment. In its grim way, Laos resembles Myanmar. But whereas Myanmar is treated as a pariah, Laos's authoritarian ways are largely unremarked internationally. [Source: The Economist, April 26, 2001 <<<]
“Laos allows not even token dissent. Two known attempts to organise anti-government demonstrations were broken up by the police before the protesters could unfurl their banners. A string of bombings in Vientiane shows that at least one group is working against the government, but so far it has not identified itself. A number of opponents of the government live in exile, but they say little. Far from acknowledging that the economy is badly run, the government proudly points to real GDP growth of 4.5 percent in 2000. But GDP per person was just $272 in 2000, and foreign aid accounts for more than half of the country's budget. Donors, however, seem reluctant to use it as a lever to improve human rights. <<<
Elections in 2002 and the Vibe in Laos at That Time
In February 2002, The Economist reported:“The voice of the commère in the sleek silk skirt echoed through the polling station, amplified by a tinny sound system. The people of Laos, she explained, were about to vote in an election for a new national assembly, which would carry the country's 26-year-old communist revolution forward to new triumphs. Like magicians performing a conjuring trick, two election workers held up the first ballot box to show that it was empty. Up swept both cars of the presidential motorcade, bringing Khamtay Siphandone to choose between the various party functionaries running for office. As Mr Khamtay cast his ballot, a journalist asked him what would change as a result of this uplifting spectacle. “There won't be any change,” the president explained, since last year's party congress had already undertaken all the necessary measures to update and reinvigorate the revolution. [Source: The Economist , February 28, 2002 /*\]
“Although the vote took place on February 24th, the country's mountainous terrain, sparse population and poor roads have slowed down the collection and counting of the ballots. But no one is in suspense. The Lao People's Revolutionary Party is the sole legal political organisation, though non-communist cadidates are in theory allowed to compete, if they show a “sufficient level of knowledge of party policy”. Only one man, apparently, met this standard: the minister of justice, hardly an anti-establishment firebrand. Barely half the seats were contested at all. /*\
“Disillusioned Laotians could not even abstain: voting is compulsory, and party officials were checking to make sure no one spoiled his ballot. As the hammer-and-sickle flags draped over the polling booths attested, Laos remains a resolute and unabashed communist dictatorship. But not such an unpleasant one. The party has made an effort to spruce up its image, cutting the average age of its candidates by ten years. There are few signs of dissent. A bombing campaign that caused a stir in 2000 has stopped as mysteriously as it started. When dissident Laotian émigrés attacked a border post last year, they failed to ignite any rebellious response within the country. In part, this may stem from fear: five students who called for greater freedoms in 1999 have disappeared without trace. But most Laotians are simply too poor to worry about politics. /*\
In 2002, National Assembly elections were held a year early and some reforms were made, which were largely regarded as a cosmetic move to satisfy the international community enough to keep foreign aid flowing in. The assembly would normally be expected to serve a five-year term but was restricted to four years this term after the last session ran an extra year. Laos allowed independent candidates to run for the first time in its 2002 election. The only independent in the race was Justice Minister Khamouane Boupha, who won.
Laotian Parliamentary Election in 2006
Laotian parliamentary elections were held on April 30, 2006 to choose new 115 members of the National Assembly of Laos. The total number of seats increased from 109 to 115 for the 2006 election. The most of seats, 113, were given to people of Lao People's Revolutionary Party (in 2002 election it was 109 out of 109). The results were: Lao People's Revolutionary Party (Phak Paxaxôn Pativat Lao): 113 seats; Non-partisans: two seats. Total: 115 seats. [Source: Wikipedia]
In March 2006, Associated Press reported: “ Candidates in next month's parliamentary elections in Laos have been restrained from doing what politicians do best — sling mud and make campaign promises, according to a newspaper report Monday. The 175 candidates contesting 115 seats in the National Assembly on April 30 will also be expected to stay within the boundaries set by the official Communist Party. "All candidates should make sure their discourse is in line with the Party's policy. They should not promise to do anything for the villagers, only to record their problems and report them to the National Assembly," the Vientiane Times quoted an election official, Vatsady Khotyotha, as saying. [Source: AP, March 6, 2006]
Vatsady, from the remote southern province of Attapeu, said candidates should be careful not to say anything against each other, but only introduce themselves to villagers and explain their background. Although there is no law that only Lao Peoples Revolutionary Party members may stand for election, the state press makes it clear that the party has tight control over the electoral process. The state-run newspaper explained that all Lao nationals can apply to be candidates to represent the "Party and the people at all levels, but that some were not accepted because they did not know enough about the Party or about governmental policies."
Choummaly Sayasone: Current Leader of Laos
In March 2006 Khamtay stood down as Party leader and President, and was succeeded in both posts by Choummaly Sayasone. He won the support of 100 per cent of assembly members before coming to office in 2006 and was re-elected head LPRP leader in March 2011. The current Prime Minister is Mr Thongsing Thammavong.
Choumally has outlined a vision to pull Laos out of poverty by 2020 by attracting foreign investment to boost its fragile US$6 billion (RM20.4 billion) economy. Part of the plan, a stock market, was put in place in January 2011. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2011 <>]
Lieutenant General Choummaly Sayasone was born on March 6,1936 in Attapu. He joined the Party's Politburo in 1991 and served as Minister of Defence from 1991 to 2001. Subsequently he was Vice President from 2001 to 2006. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Choumally is the General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. He was elected as Party General Secretary on 21 March 2006, in the aftermath of the Party's 8th Congress by the 1st plenum of the 8th Central Committee, succeeding Khamtai Siphandon, and he subsequently succeeded Siphandon as President on June 8, 2006. In March 2011, he was reelected to his position as party General Secretary at the 9th LPRP Congress. In June 2011, he was re-elected as President of Laos at the Seventh Lao National Assembly.
Laos Prime Minister Retires Before End of Term in 2010
In December 2010, Laotian Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh resigned before the end of his term. Ian Timberlake of AFP wrote: “The 56-year-old Bouasone, who had spent more than four years in office, was replaced on Thursday by Thongsing Thammavong, 66, president of the communist-dominated National Assembly. He had vowed to tackle corruption but never had enough support from his communist party, an analyst said.[Source: Ian Timberlake, AFP, December 24, 2010]
Bouasone had told deputies he could no longer perform his duties because of "family problems," government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told AFP from Laos.Martin Stuart-Fox, an Australia-based specialist on Laos, said the resignation came as a surprise. "When appointed, he said he would do something about the rampant corruption that now riddles the Lao regime. But Bouasone always lacked a strong base within the ruling party," said Stuart-Fox, professor emeritus at the University of Queensland. "His attempts to build one since the last party congress have obviously failed."
Although Bouasone's departure surprised outside observers, a source at the Vietnamese embassy in Vientiane said the move had been expected. "It concerns an internal adjustment destined to prepare for the next congress" expected at the end of March, the source said. At the time of Bouasone's appointment in June 2006 a Laos-based diplomat called him "a technocrat who is part of the younger generation of Lao leaders." But he was "relatively conservative with little experience of the business world," a foreign expert said at the time.
Stuart-Fox said Bouasone had been appointed with the support of former president Khamtay Siphandone, "whose client he always was." The current president, Choummaly Sayasone, who holds the joint position of party chief and is the country's most powerful figure, was appointed shortly before Bouasone took office.
Thongsing, the new prime minister, is the country's sixth since communist forces came to power in 1975, establishing a one-party state. He is a former mayor of the capital, Vientiane. "I will improve the way the government works to ensure state activities are timely, transparent, united and harmonious and create favourable conditions for the business sector and for the Lao people to earn a living based on the law," Thongsing was quoted as saying in Friday's edition of the state-linked Vientiane Times.
Laos Party Congress in 2011
In March 2011, Amelie Bottolier-Depois of AFP wrote: “The ruling communist party of Laos opened its five-yearly congress, an event analysts say will see a power struggle between rival pro-Vietnam and China camps. Red banners are on display throughout the capital Vientiane, where 576 delegates of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) are gathered until March 21 to choose members of the ruling Politburo, according to state media. Representing more than 191,700 party members, delegates are to decide who will take the key post of general secretary, currently occupied by 75-year-old Choummaly Sayasone, who is expected to stay in the job. [Source: Amelie Bottolier-Depois, AFP, March 17, 2011]
The congress — described by the Vientiane Times as "the most significant event in the country's political life" — is the traditional venue for the redistribution of powers. But in a surprise move in December, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh quit to be replaced by National Assembly president Thongsing Thammavon. Analysts say his appointment points to a realignment of power in favour of the party's pro-Vietnamese factions and those wary of major Chinese investments pouring into the country. "Some people saw in this a victory for the pro-Vietnamese over pro-Chinese members," said one foreign observer, who declined to be named.
The reshuffle allowed the party — which has ruled since 1975 — to maintain strong ties with Vietnam's communists, according to Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos expert at Australia's University of Queensland. "Political ties between Laos and Vietnam have always been strong, and Thongsing as a good Party man has been closer to Vietnam than Bouasone was," he said.
According to Laos government: On March 17, 2011, the 9th National Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) convened at the Meeting room of the Party Central Committee Office, kilometer 6 in Vientiane with the participation of 576 delegates representing more than 191,700 party members nationwide. The congress took place under the theme:"Enhancing cohesive solidarity of the Lao nation and unity within the Party, upholding the leadership role and capacity of the Party, Devising breakthrough approach for the implementation of the renovation policy, Creating solid basis for lifting our nation from underdevelopment by 2020, and Advancing further towards Socialism destination". [Source: The National Assembly of the Lao PDR, 2011 ><]
Former Party General Secretary Khamtay Siphandone and the state and government leaders as well as members of the diplomatic corps and some international organizations also attended the opening session of the congress. In his opening speech, Politburo member and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong expressed limitless gratitude and respectful commemoration to late beloved President Kaysone Phomvihane who found the Lao People's Army, Lao People's Revolutionary Party, a new regime and starting the principle based renovation policy in the Lao PDR. ><
Comrade Thongsing Thammavong noted that the Congress took place at an important time, when the country received a great number of achievements in the cause of national defence and construction made in the past 35 years. Party General Secretary Choummaly Sayasone presented the VIII Party Central Committee's report at the opening session, while Mr. Somsavat Lengsavad, Politburo member and head of the Secretariat for the IX Party Congress presented the Seventh five year socio-economic development plan ( 2011-2015). ><
The five day congress will consider and approve the political report of the VIII Party Central Committee to the IX Party Congress, the Seventh five year socio-economic development plan ( 2011-2015), and the amended rule of the Party. The Party Congress will make comments to the leadership review report of the VIII Party Central Committee and then there will be the election of the IX Party Central Committee. The representatives from line central and local Party Committees as well as role -model sectors will present their report, make inputs to different documents of the Party Congress. ><
AFP reported: “The gathering choose members of the ruling Politburo as well as decided who will lead the Lao People's Revolutionary Party in the post of general secretary, Khenthong Nuanthasing told AFP. Choummaly Sayasone currently holds the joint position of party chief and president, making him the most powerful figure in the one-party state. He is eligible for another term. The Congress follows the surprise resignation in December of Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, who was replaced by Thongsing Thammavong, 66-year-old president of the communist-dominated National Assembly. [Source: AFP, February 21, 2011 \-\]
“At the party's last meeting in 2006, almost 500 delegates gathered to represent about 150,000 party members. They selected an 11-member Politburo and 55 members of the Central Committee, another key leadership body. Legislators for the communist-dominated National Assembly are to be elected by the public on April 30, after which a new government will be formed.” \-\
Laotian Parliamentary Election in 2011
In late April 2011, Laos held elections for its national assembly today. Reuters reported: The five-yearly poll offered citizens a rare say in the running of one of Asia’s most secretive and tightly controlled countries but struggled to generate much excitement among Laos’s people, most of whom see the election as a formality, with candidates hand-picked and vetted by the only legal political party in what is one of the world’s last remaining socialist states. But there are some subtle changes this time that the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) says reflects the country’s diversity and offers greater representation to ethnic groups, women and rural communities, which constitute 70 per cent of the population. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2011 <>]
“Because of its poor infrastructure, Laos will transport ballot boxes by air from five far-flung provinces inaccessible by road to speed up the vote count. An estimated 2.5 million eligible voters have a chance to elect 132 representatives from among the 190 candidates vying to become assembly members and “approve the fundamental issues of the nation”, according to state media. “ <>
Lao Movement for Human Rights reported: “The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) announced the results of the legislative elections of April 30, 2011, by underlining the success and “the joyful atmosphere’’ of these elections, proclaiming ’the democratic rights of the Lao multi-ethnic people’’, ’’ in exercising their political rights’’, , while the international press qualified these elections as `’ pure rubber stamp’’ ’, ’’a recording room ’’ in a country where the opposition is not tolerated and peaceful demonstrations in favour of human rights each time severely repressed. The official press stated that 99.6 percent of the population participated at these mandatory votes (3.23 million out of 3.24 million registered voters). [Source: Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH),Lao Movement for Human Rights, May 13, 2011 ~~]
As for the seats distribution, 4 out of 132 are not representatives of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Women have not increased in number (25 percent). Among 38.6 percent issued from the ethnic minorities (51), 9 percent are Khmu (12) and only 5.3 are Hmong (7). Faced with this pretence of an election, the only goal of which was to enable the totalitarian regime to boast about its legitimacy to the donors and the international community, the Lao Movement for Human Rights solemnly demands that the Lao authorities give the power back to the people, so that it can choose its leaders freely, in accordance with a multiparty system. ~~
Professor Martin Stuart-Fox, a specialist on Laos at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the Voice of American the communist party controls all elections in Laos. "Overwhelmingly, the people who stand for the National Assembly elections are members of the party," he says. "A few independents are allowed to stand, but they have been checked out by the party." [Source: Voice of America, April 28, 2011 |=|]
"But the names and who will serve have already been determined by the party. So, all the assembly does is simply to rubber stamp the decisions that the party has already made." Nonetheless, Stuart-Fox says the party has allowed a slight improvement in the body’s internal discussions. He says while in the past there was no real debate on issues, the National Assembly now, on occasion, addresses problems such as corruption, a growing concern. "And, this has been debated within the assembly without naming names, and, of course, nothing comes out of it in terms of prosecutions," he says. "But, it does signal the government's disquiet over the level of corruption." |=|
Elections in Communist Laos Promise Little Change
Associated Press reported: “Laos held legislative elections that swept in a younger generation of lawmakers but preserve the political status quo, since virtually all candidates owe allegiance to the all-powerful communist party that has ruled for 36 years. Its real policymakers were selected in March, when the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party held its 9th congress, picking 75-year-old Choummaly Sayasone — also the country's president — for a second five-year term as party secretary general. Voters chose among 190 candidates contesting 132 seats in the National Assembly, according to Laos' state news agency. week. [Source: Associated Press, April 29, 2011 <<>>]
“Most candidates are members of the communist party, which has governed the single-party state since 1975. As a result, voters largely chose among personalities, not ideologies, and the elections were mainly expected to bring a new, younger generation into a government long dominated by aging revolutionaries who defeated a U.S.-backed regime three decades ago. In recent years, the National Assembly "has approved 50 laws, bringing the total number to more than 90, a step toward building a state governed by the rule of law," the official Vientiane Times said. <<>>
“While the assembly is mainly a rubber stamp for the ruling party, "we can expect more younger people who have better education to be elected," said Adisorn Semyaem, a Laos specialist at the Institute of Asian Studies at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University. He said younger lawmakers also joined the assembly in the last legislative elections in 2006, lending more substance to debates. The assembly, for example, recently sought to exert a bigger role in approving major investment projects, particularly those by foreign investors and those seen to affect the environment and society, said Adisorn, who traveled to Laos to observe the vote. <<>>
“Stronger economic growth has helped the communist party maintain its grip on power, said Simon Creak, a historian of Laos and Southeast Asia at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University. "However, things are far from static," Creak said. "A new generation of party technocrats has stepped up to replace veterans of the revolution. New business connections have allowed nonmilitary figures to quickly build patronage networks." Creak said many voters were casting their ballots with care. "Despite the absence of competing parties, many Lao voters take their vote quite seriously — even if it is candidates' education, experience and even appearance, rather than their policies, that make up minds," he said. <<>>
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Laos-Guide-999.com, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014