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Speculation Ends: Laos Maintains Current President, PM - 2002-04-10

The Lao National Assembly has retained the current president and prime minister, putting to rest rumors of a leadership change. The government also appears to be acting to limit any internal dissent.

The decision to retain President Khamtay Siphandone and Prime Minister Bounnyang Vorachit halted political gossip that Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith would be promoted.

Speculation had mounted in recent weeks that Mr. Thongloun - viewed as more popular with foreign investors could replace the prime minister.

Laos' senior leaders are veterans of the Indochina war that brought the Communist Party to power 26 years ago. Top officials are all well into their 60's and 70's.

In Australia, Queensland University history Professor Martin Stuart-Fox has studied politics in Laos. He said the decision to keep the president and prime minister shows that the Lao Communist Party is determined to hang onto power.

"The leadership of the party is an aging leadership. They were all involved in the revolutionary struggle, they are from that revolutionary generation. So Laos is really ruled by a gerontocracy at the moment and they are not the sort of people who can adapt to changed conditions in the world. So I don't see the likelihood of any radical change before the next Party Congress," Mr. Stuart-Fox said.

Professor Stuart-Fox said the government's decision to change the name of the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Internal Peacekeeping indicates a new effort to suppress dissent.

He said the renamed ministry is likely to have more power, and will take pressure off the military on day-to-day security matters.

"It suggests there will be a greater role for the Ministry of the Interior in bringing about internal peace and security, rather than leaving it to the army to be involved, in what might be a fairly serious and tough way, only when things get out of hand," Mr. Stuart-Fox said.

While most senior members of the government retained their posts, analysts said leaders know they must draw younger and better-educated people into government. Some analysts said the party leadership is pushing to see younger members elected to the National Assembly.