Laos Table of Contents
The LPP steadily grew from its initial 300 to 400 members ("25 delegates representing 300 to 400 members" were said to have attended the founding congress of the party). By 1965 there were 11,000 members; by 1972, as it prepared to enter into the final coalition with the RLG, it had grown to some 21,000 members; by 1975, when the party seized full power, it claimed a membership of 25,000; and by 1991, at the convening of the Fifth Party Congress, the LPRP claimed its membership had increased to 60,000.
The LPRP has been organized in a manner common to other ruling communist parties, with greatest similarity to the Vietnamese Communist Party. As in other such parties, the highest authority is the party congress, a gathering of party cadres from throughout the country that meets on an intermittent schedule for several days to listen to speeches, learn the plans for future party strategy, and ratify decisions already taken by the party leadership.
Next in the party hierarchy--since the elimination of the Secretariat in 1991--is the Central Committee, the party elite who fill key political positions throughout the country (see fig. 8). The Central Committee is charged with leading the party between congresses. In addition to members of the Politburo and former members of the Secretariat, the committee includes key government ministers, leading generals of the army, secretaries of provincial party committees, and chairpersons of mass organizations.
When the LPRP first revealed itself to the public in 1975, the Central Committee comprised twenty-one members and six alternates. By the Fourth Party Congress, its size had expanded to fifty-one members and nine alternates. The average age of a Central Committee member in 1986 was fifty-two, with the oldest seventy-seven and the youngest thirty-three. The number of women on the Central Committee rose from three to five, including Thongvin Phomvihan, then Secretary General Kaysone's wife, who was chair of the LPRP's People's Revolutionary Youth Union and, in 1982, the first woman appointed to the Central Committee.
At the Fifth Party Congress, the Central Committee stabilized in size at fifty-nine members and took on a few younger, more educated men to replace deceased or retired members. At the time, the oldest member was seventy-seven, the youngest thirty-five, with 22 percent over sixty, 30 percent between fifty and fifty-nine, and 40 percent under forty-nine. Only two women are full members of the Central Committee, and two continue as alternates. Thongvin Phomvihan--who had ranked thirty-fifth in 1986--was removed, accompanied by rumors of excessive political influence in her business activities. Notwithstanding this setback to Kaysone's family fortune, their son, Saisompheng Phomvihan, was appointed to the Central Committee, ranking forty-fifth, and was named governor of Savannakhét Province in 1993. This appointment inspired some private muttering about the emerging "princelings," referring as well to Souphanouvong's son, Khamsai Souphanouvong, number thirtyfour on the Central Committee, who became minister of finance.
Despite the party's rhetoric asserting ethnic equality, the Central Committee has been dominated by lowland Lao. Upland minorities remain sparsely represented at the highest levels of party leadership. Only four members of ethnic minority groups were reported on the Central Committee elected at the Fifth Party Congress.
The Central Committee is served by a number of subordinate committees. These committees include, most importantly, the Office of the Central Committee, and five other offices: Organization Committee; Propaganda and Training Committee; Party and State Control Committee; Administrative Committee of the Party and State School for Political Theory; and Committee for the Propagation of Party Policies.
Since 1972 the genuine center of political power, as in other communist parties, has resided in the Politburo. Membership of the Politburo, and formerly that of the Secretariat, is drawn from the Central Committee. A small group of men--seven in 1972 and eleven by 1993--have provided the critical leadership of the communist movement in Laos. A signal attribute of this group has been its remarkable cohesion and continuity. The Politburo has been dominated for more than fifteen years communist rule by the same stalwart band of revolutionary veterans. The twenty-five Laotian former members of the ICP who founded the LPP in 1955, and from whom the Politburo was drawn, remained in almost identical rank until illness and age began to take their toll in the 1980s. Kaysone was named secretary general of the then secret LPP upon its establishment, a post he retained until his death in 1992. Nouhak retained his number-two position on the Politburo into 1993. It was not until the Fifth Party Congress that Souphanouvong, Phoumi Vongvichit, and Sisomphone Lovansai (ranking third, fourth, and seventh, respectively) were retired with honorific titles as counselors to the Central Committee. Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandon was promoted to succeed Kaysone as chief of the party, and Phoun Sipaseut advanced a notch in rank. In 1991 the Politburo numbered ten, including only two new members.
Although the exact manner of Politburo decision making has never been revealed, a collegiality, based on long years of common experience, appears to have developed. In addition to their powerful position on the Politburo, members exercise additional political power--perhaps even more than in most other communist systems--through important posts within the governmental structure. In fact, for many years, five Politburo members also held seats on the Secretariat.
At the Fifth Party Congress, the party abolished the nineperson Secretariat of the Central Committee and changed the designation of the head of the party (Kaysone) from secretary general to chairman. Until it was abolished, the Secretariat wielded influence second only to that of the Politburo. The Secretariat issued party directives and acted on behalf of the Central Committee when it was not in session, in effect managing the day-to-day business of the party. Khamtai Siphandon became party chairman in November 1992, but it is not certain whether he will accrue the same power and influence as his predecessor.
Each of the sixteen provinces (khoueng--see Glossary) is directed by a party committee, chaired by a party secretary who is the dominant political figure in the province. At a lower level are 112 districts (muang--see Glossary), further divided into subdistricts (tasseng--see Glossary), each with their own party committees. Administratively, subdistricts have been abolished in principle since around 1993, but implementation has been uneven across provinces. It is unknown whether subdistrictlevel party committees have also been abolished. At the base of the country's administrative structure are more than 11,000 villages (ban--see Glossary), only some of which have party branches.
Data as of July 1994
Laos Table of Contents