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Laos Table of Contents


The 1958 Elections

The stunning success of the LPF and its allies in winning thirteen of the twenty-one seats contested in the May 4, 1958, elections to the National Assembly changed the political atmosphere in Vientiane. This success had less to do with the LPF's adroitness than with the ineptness of the old-line nationalists, more intent on advancing their personal interests than on meeting the challenge from the LPF. The two largest parties, the Progressive Party and the Independent Party, could not agree on a list of common candidates in spite of repeated prodding by the United States embassy and so split their votes among dozens of candidates. The LPF and the Peace (Santiphab) Party carefully worked out a strategy of mutual support, which succeeded in winning nearly two-thirds of the seats with barely one-third of the votes cast. Souphanouvong garnered the most votes and became chairman of the National Assembly. The Progressive Party and the Independent Party tardily merged to become the Rally of the Lao People (Lao Rouam Lao).

In the wake of the election fiasco, Washington concentrated on finding alternatives to Souvanna Phouma's strategy of winning over the Pathet Lao and on building up the Royal Lao Army as the only cohesive nationalist force capable of dealing with the communists' united front tactics. On June 10, 1958, a new political grouping called the Committee for the Defense of the National Interests (CDNI) made its appearance. Formed mainly of a younger generation not tied to the big families and as yet untainted by corruption, it announced a program for revitalizing the economy, forming an anticommunist front that excluded the Pathet Lao, suppressing corruption, and creating a national mystique.

Washington, which was paying the entire salary cost of the Royal Lao Army, was enthusiastic about the "young turks" of the CDNI. This enthusiasm was not altogether shared by United States ambassador Horace H. Smith, who asked what right a group untested by any election had to set its sights on cabinet appointments. Whereas Souvanna Phouma tried and failed to form a government, creating a drawn-out cabinet crisis, Phoui Sananikone eventually succeeded and included four CDNI members and Phoumi Nosavan in a subcabinet post.

Data as of July 1994