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Laos Historical and Political Profile

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Laos Index

  • Laos-The Confrontational Relationship with Thailand
  • Laos-Livestock
  • Laos-Chapter 1 - Historical Setting
  • Laos-The Defense Budget
  • Laos-Chapter 2 - The Society and Its Environment
  • Laos-Motor Vehicles
  • Laos-Chapter 5 - National Security
  • Laos-Origins of the Party
  • Laos-The Banking System THE FINANCIAL SECTOR
  • Laos-Education since 1975
  • Laos-Environmental Problems and Policy
  • Laos-Judiciary
  • Laos-The Ethnic Liberation Organization of Laos
  • Laos-Renewed Strains
  • Laos-A Confusing Situation
  • Laos-SOCIETY
  • Laos-The Battle of Vientiane
  • Laos-The Eviction of Siam
  • Laos-The Royal Lao Army
  • Laos-Foreword
  • Laos-Protracted Diplomacy
  • Laos-Nationalist Stirrings
  • Laos-Climate
  • Laos-Money and Prices
  • Laos-The Founding of Lan Xang
  • Laos-Initial Difficulties
  • Laos-Trade Policy
  • Laos-Bureaucratic Complications
  • Laos-The Lao Issara Government
  • Laos-Refugees
  • Laos-Economic Factors
  • Laos-The Army Enters Politics
  • Laos-Party Structure
  • Laos-Internal Threats and Resistance Movements
  • Laos-Education Prior to the Lao People's Democratic Republic EDUCATION
  • Laos-Legislature
  • Laos-The Communist Seizure of Power
  • Laos-The Colonial Era
  • Laos-Bilateral Relations
  • Laos-North Vietnamese Invasion
  • Laos-Ethnic Diversity
  • Laos-Mining
  • Laos-The Division of Lan Xang
  • Laos-Transit
  • Laos-Exports
  • Laos-Renewed Negotiations
  • Laos-The Hold of Siam
  • Laos-Other Crops
  • Laos-Manufacturing
  • Laos-Executive
  • Laos-Lao People's Air Force
  • Laos-Transportation Routes
  • Laos-The Widening War
  • Laos-Natural Resources
  • Laos-Insurgents
  • Laos-Lowland Lao Society
  • Laos-Manpower and Conditions of Service
  • Laos-Topography
  • Laos-Telecommunications
  • Laos-The Refugee Population
  • Laos-Development of the Constitution THE CONSTITUTION
  • Laos-Key Leaders
  • Laos-Civil Aviation
  • Laos-Investment Projects
  • Laos-Rural-Urban Distribution
  • Laos-Postwar Relations with the United States
  • Laos-The Kingdom of Laos
  • Laos-Bureaucratic Culture GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
  • Laos-A Fragile Unity
  • Laos-Historical Background
  • Laos-Energy
  • Laos-Trade Partners
  • Laos-Social Welfare
  • Laos-Foreign Military Presence
  • Laos-Preface
  • Laos-Acknowledgments
  • Laos-Forestry
  • Laos-Introduction
  • Laos-The Origins of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Question
  • Laos-Wholesale and Retail Trade
  • Laos-Detention Centers
  • Laos-Semisecrecy of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party
  • Laos-Formation of the Third Coalition
  • Laos-Buddhism RELIGION
  • Laos-Fishing
  • Laos-The French Protectorate and Direct Administration
  • Laos-Seminar Camps and the Death of King Savang Vatthana
  • Laos-ECONOMY
  • Laos-Basic Goals
  • Laos-External Debt
  • Laos-Developments in the Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Laos-Imports
  • Laos-Multilateral Donors
  • Laos-Policy
  • Laos-Government Expenditure
  • Laos
  • Laos
  • Laos
  • Laos-Public Health
  • Laos-Foreign Aid
  • Laos-Rice
  • Laos-Services
  • Laos-The 1958 Elections
  • Laos-Industrial Output and Employment INDUSTRY AND SERVICES
  • Laos-Foreign Trade
  • Laos-Power Centers in the Middle Mekong Valley
  • Laos-Industrial Policy
  • Laos
  • Laos-Expansion of Pathet Lao Influence
  • Laos-A Deepening Split
  • Laos-Relations with the United States
  • Laos
  • Laos-Direct Foreign Investment
  • Laos-Ideology of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party
  • Laos-Trade Balance
  • Laos-Money Supply and Inflation
  • Laos-The "Secret War"
  • Laos-Relations with the Soviet Union
  • Laos
  • Laos-The Pathet Lao
  • Laos-Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
  • Laos-Government Revenue
  • Laos-Other Military Units
  • Laos-The Pattern of Rural Life
  • Laos-Civil Liberties and Human Rights THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
  • Laos-Tourism
  • Laos-Agricultural Policy
  • Laos-Laos Under the French
  • Laos-Mongol Influence
  • Laos-Chapter 4 - Government and Politics
  • Laos-Inland Waterways
  • Laos-Lao People's Navy
  • Laos-Construction
  • Laos-Crops and Farming Systems
  • Laos-Relations with China
  • Laos-Capitalist Donor States
  • Laos-Highlights of the Constitution
  • Laos-Establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Laos-Structure and Administration of the Armed Forces
  • Laos-Lao People's Army
  • Laos
  • Laos-Leadership
  • Laos-LAOS
  • Laos-The Hmong
  • Laos-Roads
  • Laos
  • Laos-Animism
  • Laos
  • Laos-The Budget Deficit PUBLIC FINANCE
  • Laos-Health Infrastructure
  • Laos-Agriculture in the Economic System
  • Laos-The Foreign Exchange Rate
  • Laos
  • Laos-Political Opposition
  • Laos
  • Laos-The Vientiane Agreement
  • BackgroundModern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.
    LocationSoutheastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
    Area(sq km)total: 236,800 sq km
    land: 230,800 sq km
    water: 6,000 sq km
    Geographic coordinates18 00 N, 105 00 E
    Land boundaries(km)total: 5,083 km
    border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km

    Coastline(km)0 km (landlocked)

    Climatetropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)

    Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Mekong River 70 m
    highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m
    Natural resourcestimber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones
    Land use(%)arable land: 4.01%
    permanent crops: 0.34%
    other: 95.65% (2005)

    Irrigated land(sq km)1,750 sq km (2003)
    Total renewable water resources(cu km)333.6 cu km (2003)
    Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 3 cu km/yr (4%/6%/90%)
    per capita: 507 cu m/yr (2000)
    Natural hazardsfloods, droughts
    Environment - current issuesunexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; most of the population does not have access to potable water
    Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
    signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
    Geography - notelandlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand
    Population6,834,942 (July 2009 est.)
    Age structure(%)0-14 years: 40.8% (male 1,400,126/female 1,386,480)
    15-64 years: 56.1% (male 1,898,995/female 1,936,892)
    65 years and over: 3.1% (male 92,070/female 120,379) (2009 est.)
    Median age(years)total: 19.3 years
    male: 19 years
    female: 19.6 years (2009 est.)
    Population growth rate(%)2.316% (2009 est.)
    Birth rate(births/1,000 population)33.94 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
    Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)10.78 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

    Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)NA (2009 est.)
    Urbanization(%)urban population: 31% of total population (2008)
    rate of urbanization: 5.6% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
    Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
    under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
    15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
    65 years and over: 0.76 male(s)/female
    total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
    Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 77.82 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 86.94 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 68.25 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

    Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 56.68 years
    male: 54.56 years
    female: 58.9 years (2009 est.)

    Total fertility rate(children born/woman)4.41 children born/woman (2009 est.)
    Nationalitynoun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
    adjective: Lao or Laotian
    Ethnic groups(%)Lao 55%, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, other (over 100 minor ethnic groups) 26% (2005 census)

    Religions(%)Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5% (2005 census)
    Languages(%)Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages

    Country nameconventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
    conventional short form: Laos
    local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
    local short form: Pathet Lao (unofficial)
    Government typeCommunist state
    Capitalname: Vientiane (Viangchan)
    geographic coordinates: 17 58 N, 102 36 E
    time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
    Administrative divisions16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural) and 1 capital city* (nakhon luang, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphrabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan (Vientiane)*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xekong, Xiangkhoang
    Constitutionpromulgated 14 August 1991; amended in 2003

    Legal systembased on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures, and socialist practice; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

    Suffrage18 years of age; universal
    Executive branchchief of state: President Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 8 June 2006); Vice President BOUN-GNANG Volachit (since 8 June 2006)
    head of government: Prime Minister BOUASONE Bouphavanh (since 8 June 2006); Deputy Prime Ministers Maj. Gen. ASANG Laoli (since May 2002), Lt. Gen. DOUANGCHAI Phichit (since 8 June 2006), SOMSAVAT Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998), and THONGLOUN Sisoulit (since 27 March 2001)
    cabinet: Ministers appointed by president, approved by National Assembly
    elections: president and vice president elected by National Assembly for five-year terms; election last held 8 June 2006 (next to be held in 2011); prime minister nominated by president and elected by National Assembly for five-year term
    election results: CHOUMMALI Saignason elected president; BOUN-GNANG Volachit elected vice president; percent of National Assembly vote - 100%; BOUASONE Bouphavanh elected prime minister; percent of National Assembly vote - 97%

    Legislative branchunicameral National Assembly (115 seats; members elected by popular vote from a list of candidates selected by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party to serve five-year terms)
    elections: last held 30 April 2006 (next to be held in 2011)
    election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LPRP 113, independents 2

    Judicial branchPeople's Supreme Court (the president of the People's Supreme Court is elected by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee; the vice president of the People's Supreme Court and the judges are appointed by the National Assembly Standing Committee)

    Political pressure groups and leadersNA
    International organization participationADB, APT, ARF, ASEAN, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO (subscriber), ITU, MIGA, NAM, OIF, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)
    Flag descriptionthree horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band

    Economy - overviewThe government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications, though the government is sponsoring major improvements in the road system with support from Japan and China. Electricity is available in urban areas and in many rural districts. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice, accounts for about 40% of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The government depends upon aid from international donors for over 80% of its capital investment. The economy has until recently benefited from high foreign investment in hydropower, mining, and construction. The fiscal crisis of late 2008, and the rapid drop in commodity prices - especially copper - has slowed these investments. Several policy changes since 2004 may help spur growth. Laos, which gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in 2004, is taking steps to join the World Trade Organization. Related trade policy reforms will improve the business environment. On the fiscal side, a value-added tax (VAT) regime, which began with a few large businesses in early 2009, should slowly help streamline the government's inefficient tax system. Economic prospects will improve gradually as the administration continues to simplify investment procedures and as a more competitive banking sector extends credit to small farmers and small entrepreneurs. The government appears committed to raising the country's profile among investors. Foreign donors have praised the Lao government for its efforts to improve the investment regime. The World Bank has declared that Laos' goal of graduating from the UN Development Program's list of least-developed countries by 2020 could be achievable.
    GDP (purchasing power parity)$14.01 billion (2008 est.)
    $13.04 billion (2007 est.)
    $12.13 billion (2006 est.)
    note: data are in 2008 US dollars
    GDP (official exchange rate)$5.374 billion (2008 est.)
    GDP - real growth rate(%)7.5% (2008 est.)
    7.5% (2007 est.)
    8.3% (2006 est.)
    GDP - per capita (PPP)$2,100 (2008 est.)
    $2,000 (2007 est.)
    $1,900 (2006 est.)
    note: data are in 2008 US dollars
    GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 39.2%
    industry: 34.3%
    services: 26.5% (2008 est.)
    Labor force2.1 million (2006 est.)

    Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 80%
    industry and services: 20% (2005 est.)
    Unemployment rate(%)2.4% (2005 est.)
    Population below poverty line(%)30.7% (2005 est.)
    Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 3.4%
    highest 10%: 28.5% (2002)
    Distribution of family income - Gini index34.6 (2002)
    37 (1997)
    Budgetrevenues: $811.6 million
    expenditures: $955.9 million (2008 est.)
    Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)8.6% (2008 est.)
    4.5% (2007 est.)

    Stock of money$NA (31 December 2008)
    $327.9 million (31 December 2007)
    Stock of quasi money$NA (31 December 2008)
    $717.9 million (31 December 2007)
    Stock of domestic credit$NA (31 December 2008)
    $285.8 million (31 December 2007)
    Economic aid - recipient$379 million (2006 est.)

    Agriculture - productssweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
    Industriescopper, tin, gold, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, cement, tourism

    Industrial production growth rate(%)11% (2008 est.)

    Current account balance-$52 million (2008 est.)
    $107.3 million (2007 est.)
    Exports$1.163 billion (2008 est.)
    $922.7 million (2007 est.)

    Exports - commodities(%)wood products, coffee, electricity, tin, copper, gold
    Exports - partners(%)Thailand 35.5%, Vietnam 15.5%, China 8.5% (2008)
    Imports$1.384 billion (2008 est.)
    $1.065 billion (2007 est.)

    Imports - commodities(%)machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
    Imports - partners(%)Thailand 68.5%, China 10.5%, Vietnam 5.8% (2008)

    Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$803 million (31 December 2008 est.)
    $540 million (31 December 2007 est.)
    Debt - external$3.179 billion (2006)

    Exchange rateskips (LAK) per US dollar - 8,760.69 (2008 est.), 9,658 (2007), 10,235 (2006), 10,820 (2005), 10,585.5 (2004)

    Currency (code)kip (LAK)

    Telephones - main lines in use97,600 (2008)
    Telephones - mobile cellular1.822 million (2008)
    Telephone systemgeneral assessment: service to general public is poor but improving; the government relies on a radiotelephone network to communicate with remote areas
    domestic: multiple service providers; mobile cellular usage growing rapidly; combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular subscribership approaching 30 per 100 persons
    international: country code - 856; satellite earth station - 1 Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region) and a second to be developed by China (2008)
    Internet country code.la
    Internet users130,000 (2008)
    Airports41 (2009)
    Pipelines(km)refined products 540 km (2008)
    Roadways(km)total: 29,811 km
    paved: 4,010 km
    unpaved: 25,801 km (2006)

    Military branchesLao People's Armed Forces (LPAF): Lao People's Army (LPA; includes Riverine Force), Air Force (2009)
    Military service age and obligation(years of age)15 years of age for compulsory military service; minimum 18-month conscript service obligation (2006)
    Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 1,549,774
    females age 16-49: 1,570,702 (2008 est.)
    Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 1,023,205
    females age 16-49: 1,085,197 (2009 est.)
    Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 75,310
    female: 74,498 (2009 est.)
    Military expenditures(% of GDP)0.5% of GDP (2006)
    Military - noteserving one of the world's least developed countries, the Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF) is small, poorly funded, and ineffectively resourced; its mission focus is border and internal security, primarily in countering ethnic Hmong insurgent groups; together with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and the government, the Lao People's Army (LPA) is the third pillar of state machinery, and as such is expected to suppress political and civil unrest and similar national emergencies, but the LPA also has upgraded skills to respond to avian influenza outbreaks; there is no perceived external threat to the state and the LPA maintains strong ties with the neighboring Vietnamese military (2008)
    Disputes - internationalSoutheast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu; talks continue on completion of demarcation with Thailand but disputes remain over islands in the Mekong River; concern among Mekong Commission members that China's construction of dams on the Mekong River will affect water levels

    Electricity - production(kWh)3.075 billion kWh (2007 est.)
    Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 1.4%
    hydro: 98.6%
    nuclear: 0%
    other: 0% (2001)
    Electricity - consumption(kWh)3.068 billion kWh (2007 est.)
    Electricity - exports(kWh)268 million kWh (2007 est.)
    Electricity - imports(kWh)475.9 million kWh (2007 est.)
    Oil - production(bbl/day)0 bbl/day (2008 est.)
    Oil - consumption(bbl/day)3,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
    Oil - exports(bbl/day)0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
    Oil - imports(bbl/day)3,080 bbl/day (2007 est.)
    Oil - proved reserves(bbl)0 bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
    Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
    Natural gas - consumption(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
    Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
    Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
    HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.2% (2007 est.)
    HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS5,500 (2007 est.)
    HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 100 (2007 est.)
    Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: very high
    food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
    vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
    note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2008) (2009)
    Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
    total population: 68.7%
    male: 77%
    female: 60.9% (2001 est.)

    School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 9 years
    male: 10 years
    female: 8 years (2006)
    Education expenditures(% of GDP)3% of GDP (2006)

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