Laos -- Geography --
Official Name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
Capital City: Vientiane
Languages: Lao (official), French, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, English and 70 others
Official Currency: Kip
Religions: Buddhist, Indigenous, Christian, Muslim, others
Land Area: 236,800 sq km
Landforms: thickly forested landscape that consists mostly of rugged mountains
Land Divisions: 16 provinces
Laos -- History --
Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in the fourteenth century by Fa Ngum, himself descended from a long line of Lao kings. Lan-Xang prospered until the eighteenth century, when the kingdom was divided into three principalities, which eventually came under Siamese suzerainty. In the 19th century, Laos’ territories were incorporated into the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina. Although Luang Prabang kingdom is still an autonomous protectorate, all the other territories, including Champasak, pass under the authority of the French supreme resident, whose headquarters became Vientiane. Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence in 1945, but the French under De Gaulle re-asserted their control and only in 1950 was Laos granted semi-autonomy as an "associated state" within the French Union. Moreover, the French remained in de facto control until 1954, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy. Laos was dragged into the Vietnam War, and the eastern parts of the country were invaded and occupied by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which used Laotian territory as a staging ground and supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against these territories. Follows a Civil War between the communist backed by the Soviet Union and the Vietnamese Army against the royalist government. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao takes control over the country and renames it to "Lao People's Democratic Republic" and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was ordered in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of China which cut the country off from trade with any country but Vietnam. In 2005, the United States established Normal Trade Relations with Laos, ending a protracted period of punitive import taxes.
Laos -- Economy --
The government of Laos — one of the few remaining official communist states — began decentralising control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking: growth averaged 6% in 1988-2004 except during the short drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Major urban centers have experienced significant booms in recent years.
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 80% industry and services: 20% Unemployment rate: 2.4% Population below poverty line: 30.7%
Laos has historically been involved with the production of drugs, notably Opium. In 1959 Laos was producing approximately 150 tons. In 1971 production had increased to approximately 300 tons. During the Vietnam War, the vast majority of the opium produced in Laos was consumed by US soldiers.
Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. Laos has the lowest percentage of arable land. Only 4.01% of Laos is arable land, and only 0.34% of the country is planted with permanent crops. Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice.
Natural resources include timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold.
Much of the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, although a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge is currently under construction. The major roads connecting the major urban centres have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads are accessible only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round. The basic means of transport remains the river thoroughfare. Laos possesses 52 airports, of which 9 have paved runways, and 43 do not.
There is limited telecommunication, but mobile cellular phone use has become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is unavailable or offered only during scheduled periods.
The Lao economy is heavily dependent on investment and trade with its neighbors, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially China.
Laos -- Culture --
Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. Rice is the staple food and has cultural and religious significance. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.
Laos has a long and distinguished tradition of Buddhist literature, but the emergence of modern secular prose and poetry is a fairly recent phenomenon. Established in 1979, the monthly Vannasin Magazine aims to provide a forum for the development of Lao writing and to entertain and educate readers through poetry and short stories which focus on Lao traditional culture, reflecting the daily lives of Lao people and informing them of social problems. In 1999 the Vannasin office launched the Sinxay Weekly newspaper and in 2004 it launched the annual Sinxay National Writing Competition.
Laos is known throughout the world for the excellence of its traditional crafts, in particular textile weaving. Western-style oil and water-colour painting are also taught at the National Faculty of Fine Arts and its branch schools in Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, but there has yet to emerge a distinct Lao style of contemporary art.
Festivals in Laos are largely linked to agricultural seasons or religious holidays. The word for festival in Lao is boun, which also means doing good things during the festivities in order to gain merit for subsequent lives.
The majority Lao population and many of the country's ethnic minorities preserve a rich heritage of traditional performance, including many genres of great antiquity. Over the past century this heritage has been complemented by the emergence of a limited number of contemporary genres, including drama. Both documentaries and feature films have been produced in Laos since the 1960s. If current financial difficulties can be overcome there is considerable potential for the development of indigenous Lao cinema.
Luang Prabang is one of the cities, proclaimed to be world cultural heritage, being the home of numerous ancient temples. The most remarkable of which is Vat Ksieng Tong – grandiose temple covered with gold. There are about 30 other spectacular Buddhism temples in the country. Largely neglected during the years of warfare and economic hardship, the Lao library sector is currently seeking international assistance to develop its programmes and services.
Laos -- Political system, law and government --
Laos is a people's democtratic republic.
President: Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 8 June 2006)
Prime Minister: BOUASONE Bouphavanh (since 8 June 2006)
In 1974 it was formed a temporary government of national unity and on 2 December 1975 was proclaimed Lao People's Democratic Republic.
A) Executive Body
The executive branch of the state consists of: 1) Chief of state - president, who is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He or she is elected by parliament for a maximum of two five-year terms. 2) Head of government – prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister but is obliged to select the candidate proposed by the party with the largest number of seats in parliament. 3) Cabinet - Ministers appointed by president, approved by National Assembly. 4) Elections - president and vice president elected by National Assembly for five-year terms.
National Assembly is the legislative body that carries out supervision over the executive and juridical authorities. Members of the Parliament are elected for five-year term. National Assembly elects constant committee, headed by chairman and vice chairman of National Assembly. Sessions of National Assembly are called two times per year.
Judiciary is being represented by the People's Supreme Court, regional, communal and military courts.
Political Parties: Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is the only and the ruling party in the country. It has been founded at 22.03.1955. Politburo consists of 9 members and the central committee of 54. Chairman is Camthai Sipandon. All other parties are proscribed.
The state is divided into 16 provinces and one capital city.
The military service is compulsory for men and women after the age of 15 and continues minimum 18 months. Serving one of the world’s least developed countries, the Lao People's Armed Forces is small, poorly funded, and ineffectively resourced. It maintains strong ties with the neighboring Vietnamese military.
International organization participation: ADB, 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