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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Communist Laos gets new president, prime minister

BANGKOK, June 8 (Reuters) - Communist Laos appointed a new president, prime minister and cabinet on Thursday, an overhaul analysts saw as a transfer of power to proteges and children of retiring wartime leaders.

The new cabinet line-up was a compromise of power-sharing between 83-year-old outgoing President Khamtay Siphandone and other leaders in the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, they said.

Despite pledges by newly appointed Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh to maintain the robust economic growth outlook and cut poverty, analysts said Laos needs a better long-term strategy.

Choummaly Sayasone, 70, was appointed by the single-party Lao national assembly to replace Khamtay. The outgoing president had already passed on the top post in the Lao People's Revolutionary Party to Choummaly, his right-hand man, in March.

Bouasone, a 50-year-old deputy prime minister, was promoted to replace Prime Minister Bounnhang Vorachit, who became a vice president, at an assembly meeting broadcast live by state radio and monitored in Bangkok.

He received 105 votes from the 115-seat assembly and pledged to implement the Communist Party's goal of making Laos poverty-free by 2020 and halving the number of poor to 15 percent in five years.

Bouasone also promised to keep the economy growing at 7.5 percent a year between 2006 and 2010 and to fight graft.

"Money from donor countries will be spent more efficiently," Bouasone, who received a doctorate degree in political economy in the former Soviet Union, told the national assembly.

But diplomats said that despite the more cosmopolitan faces in the cabinet, there would be none of the changes in policy they believed were needed for the landlocked country of 5.6 million people, 30 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day.

"The robust growth has nothing to do with the party nor the government when you have China, Vietnam and Thailand desperately competing for natural resources in Laos," a Vientiane-based Western diplomat said.

Without a strategic plan, Laos, to which the three neighbours look for cheap electricity from its dam projects and natural resources from mining projects, "runs the risk of being raped by other countries", he said.

An Asian diplomat said Choummaly would not bring any significant change to policy.

"He has always been Khamtay's right-hand man. He definitely owes his position to Khamtay," the diplomat said.

Other positions included changes of ministries among existing ministers and bringing in new faces, some of which were children of outgoing ministers.

Somsavat Lengsavad was moved from the Foreign Ministry to become a deputy prime minister and is succeeded by fellow Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, previously the head of the national planning agency.
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