Lost in Laos: Systemic problems are far greater than one new leader can solve

On 30 December, Lao Prime Minster Phankham Viphavanh (72) resigned ostensibly on health grounds, but amidst an economy in sharp decline and saddled in foreign debt. He is succeeded by the scion of one of the country’s two political dynasties, Deputy Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone (56).

Politics in Laos are secretive and elite. The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’s Central Committee has a mere 71 members (with 10 alternates) and its Politburo only 13. There is almost no transparency and all media are party-controlled.

Viphavanh became Prime Minister following the party’s 11th Congress in early 2021, having moved steadily up the organizational chart, serving on the Central Committee since 2006 and the Politburo since 2011, as well as serving as a deputy prime minister, a Minister of of Education and Sports, and a provincial governor.

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A commentary by Zachary Abuza