Laos - Government
Laos is a country in transition and has set a goal of graduating from Least Developed Country status by 2020. While the Lao political system remains firmly in the control of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), the forces of globalization and regionalization continue to drive the Lao government to open the economy to market forces. Laos increasingly shows a willingness to engage in international fora on governance issues as well. The communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) monopolizes political power and control of the media, squashes all dissent, and retains tight fraternal party ties with Vietnam while deepening economic ties with China.
The Party General Secretary also serves as state president and appoints a prime minister, to be rubber stamped by the Lao National Assembly. The Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) was proclaimed on 2 December 1975, abolishing the monarchy and the previous Royal Lao Government. The new constitution was unanimously endorsed by a unicameral 85-member Supreme People's Assembly on 14 August 1991, and amended most recently in 2003. The Supreme People's Assembly was renamed as the National Assembly in 1992. It exercised power according to principle of democratic centralism.
The law provides for a representative national assembly, elected every five years in open, multiple-candidate, fairly tabulated elections with universal, adult-suffrage voting by secret ballot. Election committees appointed by the National Assembly must approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but in practice almost all were.
The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state in 2012 was President Choummaly Sayasone. The head of government at that time was Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong. Government policies are determined by the party through the powerful 11-member Politburo and the 50-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Politburo.
The first National Assembly was elected in December 1992. Its inaugural session was in February 1993. As the country's legislative organ, it oversees the judiciary and activities of administration. The National Assembly, which has added seats at every election, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains the authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place on 30 April 2011, when the National Assembly was expanded to 132 members. Independent observers were not allowed to monitor the election process.
Laos has enacted a number of new laws in recent years, but the country is still governed largely through the issuance of decrees. Many new laws are being passed at this writing. They are designed to bring Laos into compliance with WTO requirements as Laos aspired to become a member in the near future.
The country's President is the head of state, and is elected by National Assembly for a 5-year term. The President also acts as the country's commander in chief of the armed forces (Lao People's Army). The Council of Ministers is the country's highest executive organ, and its chairman is designated as prime minister. Its vice chairmen oversee the work of ministers. Real power is exercised by members of the ruling party, the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), particularly the Political Bureau (Politburo) and Central Committee.
A small-scale insurgency against the regime that continued since the end of the Indochina conflict has essentially ended. Past incidents included attacks in 2003 and 2004 against various types of land transportation and public markets. There were reports of clashes in 2005 and 2007. In late 2006 and 2007, more than 1,000 former fighters and family members were estimated to have surrendered to Lao authorities, and there were no credible reports of clashes in 2010 or 2011. The United States opposes any acts of violence against the Lao Government.
Laos' judiciary is comprised of the Supreme People's Court, provincial and municipal courts, people's district courts, and military courts.
The country is divided into 16 provinces (khoueng): Attapu, Borikhan, Bokeo, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louang Namtha, Louangphrabang, Oudômxai, Phôngsali, Saravan, Savannakhét, Xaignabouri, Xekong, Xiangkhoang, and Vientiane; one municipality (kampheng nakhon), Vientiane; 2 special zones, Xaisomboun in northeastern Vientiane Province (established June 1994), and Xianghon-Hôngsa, formerly 2 districts (muang) in Xaignabouri Province (established mid-1992). Each of these is further divided into districts and villages (ban).
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