Government Structure and Society

Government Structure

 

The constitution of 1991, which declares the party to be the “leading nucleus” of the political system, provides for a National Assembly, the members of which are elected to five-year terms. The National Assembly elects the president and vice president and approves presidential appointments of the prime minister and members of the cabinet (Council of Ministers). The president and ministers serve five-year terms.

 

The judicial system is headed by the People’s Supreme Court, the president of which is elected by the National Assembly on recommendation of its own Standing Committee. Below the People’s Supreme Court are provincial, municipal, district, and military courts. Judges for these courts are also appointed by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly.

 

Laos is a communist country, and the only legal political party is the LPRP. Although the party controls all branches of government, independent candidates have on occasion been elected to the National Assembly. A handful of groups stand in armed opposition to the communist government, some of them associated with particular ethnic communities,  others operate from outside the country.  Laos has universal adult suffrage for all citizens who are at least 18 years old.

 

Since its establishment in December 1975, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) has been effectively controlled by the communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). This party, in alliance with the Vietnamese communists, carried out the revolution that ended in its seizure of power and the abolition of the monarchy. Top government positions—beginning with the president, who is head of state, and the prime minister, who is the head of government—are selected from high-ranking party members who constitute a Central Committee with the Politburo at the head.

 

 

Social and political stability –As per the World Bank, economic growth in Lao PDR is projected to rebound to 6.5% in 2019, up from 6.3% in 2018. Growth is expected to be driven by the construction sector, supported by investments in large infrastructure projects, and a resilient services sector, led by wholesale and retail trade growth. Against the backdrop of challenging domestic and external environments, the Government of Lao PDR has remained committed to fiscal consolidation by tightening public expenditure and improving revenue administration. The key constraints SMEs face include access to finance, competition with informal firms – such as those that are not registered and do not comply with regulations – and electricity outages.

 

Laos remains one of the most repressive and politically opaque countries in the world. It is consistently ranked as “not free” by Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Index, and unlike neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia, or even Myanmar during junta rule, Laos has no organized opposition party. In fact, even small public protests in Laos are quickly suppressed, their leaders going missing for years afterward. Laos’ political repression receives little international attention. In such a regressive environment where there is no means to express dissent peacefully, violence sometimes flares up against Laotian officials and government targets.

 

Religious stability –Laotian government’s Decree on Associations that was passed in late 2017, has been a cause of religious unrest in Laos. Citizens feel that their right to believe in religion or not, the decree effectively abrogates the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom by placing extraordinarily strict government restrictions on non-profit organisations, including religious groups. This gives the government the power to be the final arbitrator of all permissible religious activities. Soon after the decree was enacted the ICJ, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the FIDH, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights, CCPR-Centre, and World Organisation Against Torture issued a joint request to the Laotian government expressing “deep alarm” and requesting dramatic revision or repeal the decree, but the decree still remains in effect.

 

Geographic Advantage

 

Laos enjoys a strategic location in the ASEAN. Being landlocked, the country shares its borders with countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. Edgar Pang wrote that besides Cambodia, Lao PDR is one of China’s most trusted regional allies and Chinese influence is likely to grow even more as the country becomes increasingly reliant on Beijing.

 

Laos being one of the smaller nations has a simple foreign policy is aligned towards keeping all its neighbours happy. Beijing’s investments in the landlocked state are plentiful, especially in the infrastructure, hydropower, mining and agricultural sectors. The landmark US$ 6 billion 414-kilometre railway project connecting both countries broke ground in December 2016 and is part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

 

Lao PDR’s savvy diplomatic choreography is its infrastructure in downtown Vientiane, which boasts an airport built by Japan, a riverbank redevelopment project undertaken by South Korea and its international conference halls erected by China. In the most recent survey on attitudes towards ASEAN by the ASEAN Foundation, 99% of Laotian respondents agreed that membership in ASEAN was beneficial to their country and 92.5% of them agreed that membership was indeed beneficial to them personally. Besides that, 96 percent felt that they were citizens of ASEAN – compared to the ASEAN average of 76.8%. Thus the strategic location helps the nation to build its foreign relations leading to enormous growth potential for the nation.

 

 

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