Independent Laos began its existence in 1953
with just over 20 years of civil war. On one side stood
those who were friendly to the old colonial power of
France. On the other stood socialist forces with strong
ties to the left guerrillas in Vietnam. The cooperation
between them led Laos to withdraw into the Vietnam War
in the 1960s and was heavily bombed by the United
States. In 1975 the Communist Party took power and has
ruled a lot since then. From 1991, market economy has
The Civil War had its origins in contradictions that
emerged after the Second World War between socialist
forces and a French-friendly camp that feared too much
Vietnamese influence. During the war, the
Western-oriented government under Prince Souvanna Phouma
opposed the socialist liberation movement Lao Issara's
successor, the Communist Party Pathet Lao, led by Prince
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Laos. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
With the help of the Vietnamese guerrilla Viet Minh,
in the early 1960s, Pathet Lao took control of an area
in northeastern Laos. The country was drawn into the
Vietnam War in 1964, when the United States began
bombing Laos to destroy the Viet Minh supply line (the
so-called Ho Chi Minh ridge), which passed through the
Pathet Lao-controlled area.
About two million tons of bombs and mines were
dropped over Laos during the war, making the country one
of the most bombed in world history. Countless small
villages on Krukslätten in the north were destroyed. In
connection with the bombing, the United States trained
and equipped a Communist-hostile guerrilla group among
the Hmong population (see Population and Languages)
in the country's northern part.
The Communists take power
When the US and North Vietnam signed a peace treaty
in 1973, the way for an end to the fighting was also
prepared in Laos. In the same year, a ceasefire
agreement was signed in the Laotian capital of
Vientiane. Pathet Lao then controlled two-thirds of the
country. At the same time, the United States suspended
support for the hmong guerrilla, which continued its
fight against the Communists in silence.
A coalition government was established under Prince
Souvanna Phouma with several Ministers from Pathet Lao.
But in conjunction with the communist takeovers of power
in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, new fighting broke out
and in the same year Pathet Lao took power throughout
In December 1975, the monarchy was abolished and the
Democratic People's Republic of Laos was proclaimed. The
National People's Congress convened elected Pathet Laos
leader Prince Souphanouvong as president. Prince
Souvanna Phouma received a post as a government adviser.
The Communist Party, or the Laotian People's
Revolutionary Party (PPPL), now became the only allowed
party. About 200,000 Laotians, who did not share the
political views of the new rulers, fled to Thailand.
Around 40,000 soldiers and officials from the former
regime, as well as other opposition, were put in
so-called retraining camps. King Savang Vatthana and his
queen also ended up in prison camps, where they were
treated badly and later died of starvation.
The new regime introduced a strict socialist,
state-controlled economic policy, with the
collectivization of agriculture and the stateisation of
business as important elements. This policy was the main
reason why Laos went back economically for many years.
The lack of roads and communications also contributed to
the decline, as did the acute shortage of capital and
skilled labor. In addition, many of the country's
industries were destroyed after the civil war.
Market economy reforms
Laos was held under the arms of Vietnam and the
Soviet Union and became dependent on aid from these
countries. Cooperation with Vietnam was particularly
extensive, including Vietnamese military forces
stationed in the country.
After several years of low productivity and declining
living standards, Laos in 1979 took some cautious steps
towards economic and political change. The Communist
Party opened the economy to private ownership and
enterprise, and non-affiliated experts were deployed to
various positions within the administration to make the
system more efficient.
When both the Soviet Union and Vietnam embarked on an
economic reform policy in the mid-1980s, Lao's more
far-reaching economic changes were also underway. A
number of restrictions on private ownership were
abolished and privatizations of certain state-owned
companies began. Government subsidies in agriculture and
industry were reduced and price controls eased. In 1988,
the country was opened to foreign investors.
A certain political reorientation took place in
parallel within the Communist Party by introducing
younger and more reform-friendly politicians into the
party top. But largely the political system remained the
same. The Communist Party maintained the monopoly of
The restructuring of the economy initially led to new
difficulties. The decline in food production could not
immediately be turned upwards and the reduced state
involvement in the companies in the first phase led to
lower revenues to the Treasury. The problems were
exacerbated by the collapse of communism in Eastern
Europe in the late 1980s. Laos had depended on aid from
the eastern states and trade with them. That
collaboration almost completely broke down.
With the help of credit institutions such as the IMF
and the World Bank, from 1989 an economic program was
implemented that included new taxes and more efficient
tax collection. As a result, the deficit in the Treasury
decreased, inflation fell and growth increased.
In 1991, Laos was given a new constitution which
states that the country should be a market economy.
Several laws were passed to protect private property.
But this time, too, no significant changes were made in
the political system.
During the second half of the 1990s, the rapid
economic changes were challenged by conservative forces
within the Communist Party and by sections of the
population. The new economic policy was considered to
lead to excessive foreign influence. It was also
considered to threaten domestic culture and give rise to
corruption, prostitution, AIDS and other problems. These
sentiments were reflected in the party congress in 1996
and in the elections to the National Assembly in 1997,
when the opponents of the reform strengthened their
Skepticism towards reform policy grew after the
economic crisis that hit East and Southeast Asia in
1997–1998. The so-called Asian crisis hit hard on Lao's
economy and the country's finance minister, central bank
governor and prime minister were forced to resign as a
The Asian crisis led to a series of regime-critical
demonstrations for democracy held in 1999–2000, but they
were quickly wounded by the police. At the same time,
the regime accused the hmong guerrilla of stepping up
its operations; Vientiane suffered a wave of bomb
attacks that claimed the lives of several people.
The unrest characterized the party congress in 2001
and the election to the National Assembly in 2002. The
militants remained in the powerful Politburo and no
reform proposals were submitted. In 2003–2004, Laos was
shaken by new bombings and the government again accused
the hmong guerrillas of being behind the attacks. Other
observers suspected that opposition laotians in exile
had planned the death.
In June 2007, US police revealed that a group of
Laotians in California, most of whom belong to the Hmong
people, prepared a coup against the Laos regime. Among
the ten arrested were General Vang Pao, who in the 1970s
led military forces, supported by the US intelligence
service CIA, against the Communist guerrilla who took
power in 1975.
The power struggles are getting tougher
The arrest of Vang Pao aroused great anger among the
approximately 100,000 hmong living on the American west
coast. Among them, he was highly regarded for his
efforts against the Communists. In July of that year,
Vang Pao was released on bail and then placed under
house arrest. Later, the prosecution was dropped. Vang
Pao passed away in the United States in January 2011 at
the age of 81.
In April 2006, elections were held again for the
National Assembly and in June party leader Choummaly
Sayasone was elected president. He appointed Bouasone
Bouphavanh as prime minister in a new government, whose
main objective was continued economic growth and the
fight against corruption.
In December 2010, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh
resigned, officially for family reasons. His departure,
however, was preceded by contradictions between the
various factions of the Communist Party ahead of the
2011 congress. He may also have been harmed by powerful
leaders of the party because he promised international
aid organizations, of which Laos is financially
dependent, to deal with the corruption; this threatened
to make it harder for the elite to enrich themselves.
The National Assembly elected Thongsing Thammavong
from northern Laos as new prime minister. At the March
2011 party congress, Bouasone was also forced to leave
the Politburo. Choummaly Sayasone was re-elected as
party leader. In April, elections to the National
Assembly were held and in June President Choummaly
Sayasone and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong were
Ministers are killed in an air crash
In May 2012, Dr Khampeuy Panmalaythong, a highly
regarded scientist and member of the Central Committee
of the Communist Party, was forced to leave his
political and scientific posts. The reason is believed
to have been that on a few occasions he questioned the
effectiveness of the one-party system (though without
openly advocating a multi-party system for Laos).
In May 2014, several high-ranking politicians and
decision-makers were killed in an air crash, 50 miles
north of Vientiane. Among the dead were Deputy Prime
Minister and Minister of Defense Douangchay Phichith,
Security Minister Thongbanh Sengaphone, Secretary of the
Communist Party Central Committee and Vientiane Mayor