The Army Enters Politics

The Army Enters Politics

With the LPF's deputies in prison, the political scene became increasingly chaotic, even lawless. When Phoui's mandate ended in December 1959, Phoumi Nosavan and his CDNI supporters began their move to force the king to grant them power by announcing that the supreme command of the armed forces was "handling current affairs." Their move, however, was too bold and caused the Western ambassadors in Vientiane to present a united front to the king in support of constitutionality. An interim government headed by Kou Abhay was charged with preparing for new elections. Phoumi, temporarily rebuffed, bided his time as minister of defense. The army had entered politics but not quite in the manner Washington had hoped.

In the April 24, 1960, elections, Phoumi found his revenge. By exerting considerable pressure, he had changes made in the electoral law. With financial support from Marshal Sarit Thanarat of Thailand, Phoumi bought off strong or inconvenient candidates and enlisted civil servants as his campaign workers. Election balloting was fraudulent, and the results, giving rightist candidates large majorities, were totally unbelievable. A new government was formed on June 3, ostensibly headed by Somsanith but in fact controlled by Phoumi acting as minister of defense under the aegis of his new political party, the Social Party (Paxa Sangkhom). Souvanna Phouma, elected without fraud, became the president of the National Assembly. The imprisoned LPF deputies had not been allowed to run for the Assembly, but sent word to LPF supporters to vote for any LPF candidates who had dared run or else to vote for Peace Party candidates. However, on May 23, under darkness and with the cooperation of personnel at their prison, the LPF deputies escaped and disappeared into the countryside.

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