Political Opposition

Political Opposition

Over the centuries, residents of the Laotian Buddhist kingdom developed gentle techniques of accommodation, often searching for more powerful patrons either outside the country or within. Authorities governed during the early years after 1975 with little popular support, but most Laotians simply submitted to their authority because they had little alternative. However, the authorities were not harsh compared to other communist regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, most of which--by mid-1994--have toppled.

The relatively passive Laotian political culture inspires few direct challenges to one-party domination, and party authorities firmly assert the limits of political dissent. LPRP spokesmen invoke a litany of explanations to justify the party's monopoly of power--for example, the country is too underdeveloped and the people too little educated to permit more than one party. Further, there are too many ethnic groups, and open political participation would lead to disunity and chaos. Political stability, provided by the leadership of a single party, is said to be necessary for economic growth. The LPRP has also pointed out the corrupt multiparty system of the RLG. An abiding political reality, however, is that those who have power wish to retain it.

Restrictions on political opposition do not appear to be a salient issue among a majority of the population, although a small number of educated Laotians in intellectual, student, and bureaucratic circles have raised a few protests. Despite the toll of age and failing health among the aged Politburo members, the leadership governs without active opposition. Even when communist leaders were unceremoniously dumped in Eastern Europe, vigorously challenged in the Soviet Union, and confronted by students in China, communist leaders in Laos retained their hold as they guided the regime into the uncharted realm of reform. It is not clear why there was so little challenge to these aging leaders. They maintained a cohesion among themselves, perhaps a product of their many years as comrades in revolution, living in caves and dodging United States bombs. They may have also sustained an enduring respect from party stalwarts who followed them during twenty-five years of revolution. Whether the government will encounter political opposition from a broader segment of Laotian society as it moves to a more market-oriented economy and increasingly opens its doors to Western influence remains to be seen.

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