Laos: National Assemby With Few Surprises

2002

Kathryn Sweet

The fifth legislature of the Lao National Assembly convened for its first session from 9-11 April, to appoint the senior office bearers of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Speculation of a cabinet reshuffle was not borne out. The 109-member assembly unanimously re-elected Khamtay Siphandone as President, Choumaly Sayasone as Vice-President and Bounnhang Vorachit as Prime Minister.

The fifth legislature is the result of national elections held on 24 February. The National Assembly is the official arm of government of Lao PDR, which has been ruled as a one-party state by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) since 1975. While political power rests within the 11-member Politburo, the role of the National Assembly is to implement the policies of the LPRP by further developing the nation’s legal system. It also appoints all ministers and minister-equivalents within government, many of whom are not members of the National Assembly themselves.

While it was not required that candidates be members of the LPRP, all candidates were approved by the LPRP and nominated by party committees, mass organisations, government ministries or state enterprises. In some cases, there was no obvious connection between candidates’ personal or professional backgrounds and the constituency in which they were placed.

Pre-election publicity ensured that voters were familiar with candidates’ personal biographies, which featured photos, age, ethnicity, level of professional and political education, date of joining the LPRP, as well as current and previous positions within the Lao administration. Biographies were widely displayed in newspapers and public places such as village administration offices, schools, bus stops, and restaurants in the weeks leading up to the election.

Voters were advised to select only good candidates on polling day, posing the unlikely scenario of some officially nominated candidates not being worthy. Another twist: Lao voters were asked to delete the names of their least preferred candidates listed on the ballot slip, rather than to indicate their preferred candidates.

Some of the voting and tallying appears to be haphazard and lacking in transparency. Some voters deleted candidates based on their looks, while others confided they deleted those with military connections. A well-educated electoral volunteer responsible for counting votes in his village indicated there had been no explanation of what would happen to the election results once the village passed them to the district office.

The opening session of the fifth legislature made only three alterations to the existing line-up of ministers and minister-equivalents: Asang Laoly was moved from Minister of Interior (now renamed Ministry of Security) to Deputy Prime Minister, his former deputy Soutchai Thammasith was promoted to Acting Minister of the Ministry of Security and Chansy Phosikham, former Governor of Luang Phabang province, became Governor of the Bank of Lao PDR.

WATCHPOINT: Regardless of how the results are arrived at, the incoming National Assembly indicates little change from the past.

 

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