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Laos Modern History

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 been introduced.

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 Souphanouvong.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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.

Contemporary History of LaosThe 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 the country.

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 power.

New constitution

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 position.

Asian crisis

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 result.

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 re-elected.

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 Soukanh Mahalath.

 
 

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