Laos assembly re-elects Choummaly president

BANGKOK - A NEW national assembly in Laos re-elected President Choummaly Sayasone for another five-year term on Wednesday, marking a continuation of the authoritarian status quo in one of the world's most tightly controlled countries.

State media said the 132-member legislature gave its backing to the 75-year-old Choummaly to lead the communist country, endorsing the only candidate nominated by the powerful politburo of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.

Choummaly, a retired three-star army general, has said he would pull the former French colony out of poverty by 2020 with economic growth of 8 per cent a year, driven by foreign investment.

Laos' $6 billion (S$7.4 billion) economy has expanded by an average 7.9 per cent a year over the past five years. The resource-rich country is hoping to draw investors to its energy, mining and banking sectors and list more state firms on its new stock market to attract much-needed capital.

Laos is promoting itself as the "battery of Southeast Asia" and plans to build a series of hydroelectric dams to generate 8 per cent of the region's power by 2025.

Analysts say those projects are aimed at increasing its regional clout and reducing its dependence on its neighbours.

Chinese and Thai companies are increasingly active in Laos, but socialist Vietnam plays a more influential political role behind the country's ruling party.

The re-election of the same faces suggests the only likely reforms will be economic, with no sign of an end to the political monopoly held by the ruling party since a 1975"national liberation" by communist revolutionaries who overthrew the monarchy.

High ranking members of the party's Central Committee were approved for other top posts on Wednesday, with Thongsing Thammavong staying on as prime minister following his appointment in a cabinet reshuffle in December.

Bounnhang Vorachit was re-elected vice-president and Pany Yathotu, one of the few women in the government, retained her position as president of the assembly, which has few powers and is seen largely as a rubber stamp for the ruling party. --Reuters