Laos' ruling party meets to pick decision-makers

BANGKOK • The ruling communist party of Laos yesterday opened its five-yearly congress, which decides who runs the tightly controlled nation and sets economic priorities.

The communists have been ruling the South-east Asian country since 1975. State media said 684 delegates, representing more than 200,000 party members, will attend the five-day meeting in capital Vientiane to select members of the politburo and central committee.

Launching the congress, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong outlined a vision to uplift the country, stating that the "difference between city and countryside will narrow... human resources will develop, citizens' rights will be protected, the environment will be preserved".

Laos faces major environmental challenges, including the impact of mega dams, mining operations and massive deforestation.

The leaders of Laos almost exclusively hail from the revolutionary era. The last party congress in 2011 opted for stability, with Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone retaining the top party position of secretary-general.

"There is a transition going on between the last revolutionary veterans and a younger generation of cadres, many of whom went to universities in Vietnam or the (then) Soviet Union and therefore have a somewhat more international mindset," said a Western official, requesting anonymity.

Washington is increasingly courting the isolated state, part of United States President Barack Obama's so-called "pivot" to Asia.

He is scheduled to make the first visit by an American president to Laos in the summer, preceded by US Secretary of State John Kerry later this month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Laos' ruling party meets to pick decision-makers'. Print Edition | Subscribe