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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        30  April 2011

Laos to vote for communist-dominated assembly

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Voters in Laos go to the polls today to choose a legislature that will be entirely controlled by the ruling communists, despite signs of growing clout in recent years.

There are 190 candidates vying for 132 seats in the National Assembly, up from 115 seats last time, said analysts familiar with the process in the impoverished country.

A foreign diplomat in Vientiane said the assembly has evolved from being "a pure rubber stamp" into an organ with its own identity that has criticised the government and even substantially revised some laws.

"I think the parliament is now a force here in politics," he said.

But analysts say real power still rests with the ruling Politburo and Central Committee already chosen in March at a five-yearly Congress by fewer than 600 party members.

New legislators are all likely to be members of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, the diplomat said, requesting anonymity. Two "independents" in the last legislature eventually joined the party.

Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos specialist at the University of Queensland in Australia, agreed the assembly has sometimes been more critical of the government, "but the problem is how far does it go?"

The assembly has discussed the country's corruption problem but nobody of any significance in the country has ever been prosecuted, he said.

"I'm sure that nothing is discussed that the party doesn't want discussed," Stuart-Fox said.

The state-controlled Vientiane Times on Friday said the assembly "has brought positive changes to the performance of the government and judicial bodies."

In June, the newly elected assembly will formally adopt the composition of a new government, decided behind closed doors during the party congress.

Choummaly Sayasone, who was re-elected to the country's top post of party leader during the meeting, is also expected to be named to the joint position of president, the diplomat said.

Thongsing Thammavon is expected to stay on as prime minister. The former president of the assembly became the head of the government in December after the surprise resignation of his predecessor.

Both Vietnam and China vie for influence in landlocked Laos, which is home to about 6 million people.

More than 3 million are eligible to vote in the polls which will be broadcast live on television and radio, the Vientiane Times said.

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