Laos holds parliamentary elections today

Laos will hold elections today for its National Assembly where the only legally recognised party, the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party

2021 01 15T130728Z 631208524 RC2D8L967QH9 RTRMADP 3 LAOS POLITICS scaled 1

Photo: East Asia Forum

Laos will hold elections today for its National Assembly where the only legally recognised party, the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), currently maintains a 97% majority.

Today’s election is neither free nor fair and only serves to legitimise the one-party state. The Marxist-Leninist party—ruling since 1975—has adopted more free-market capitalist policies since the 1990s. However, political freedoms are non-existent and human rights abuses are common. The LPRP will almost certainly maintain a similar majority in the Assembly.

Expect infrastructure—mostly Chinese-financed—to be the government’s raison-d’être for the foreseeable future. A particular priority is the nine dams being built or planned on the Lower Mekong and 63 on adjoining tributaries. The LPRP hopes the over $12 billion spent thus far on these hydroelectric power projects will transform the impoverished nation into the largest electricity exporter in Asia.

However, the risk of a debt default to Beijing is high and the pliant Assembly’s failure to provide proper oversight on the efficacy of projects will likely threaten fish stocks and the livelihoods of millions downstream. Future disasters, such as the collapse of the Saddle-D Dam in 2018, cannot be ruled out, and the diversion of river flows across borders will likely increase tensions with neighbours.

Wake up smarter with an assessment of the stories that will make headlines in the next 24 hours. Download The Daily Brief.