Country Report Laos June 2009

The political scene: Preparations continue for the Southeast Asian Games

At the same time, the party is making efforts to ensure that it retains control over potentially dangerous opposition. The government has announced plans for a communications surveillance centre, which it hopes will be ready in time to improve security for the Southeast Asian Games, which are to be held in Vientiane in December. Equipment to monitor telecommunications usage, such as telephone calls and emails, and to locate the source of unauthorised transmissions, will be imported this year. Eventually the government aims to establish monitoring stations in three different locations in the country at an estimated cost of US$20m-30m. The director of the government's telecoms and Internet department, Syyang Chertoi, has conceded that this represents a big investment for Laos. Part of the funding will come from fees that have recently been imposed on telecoms operators.

The LPRP has invested much political capital in the games. Given the party's politically dominant position and the minimal gains to be had from hosting a successful event, Laos's decision to host the tournament may represent something of a risk. The games will focus the region's media on a reclusive government that usually attempts to avoid attention, and any discussion of its political structure and human rights record. If any embarrassing incident was to occur, that attention might become global. Laos has no experience in organising international games and is relying heavily on foreign assistance to do so.

The preparations for the games have been controversial. In 2008 a deputy prime minister, Somsavath Lengsavad, appeared to withdraw his public support for a Chinese "Super City" development on the That Luang marsh in Vientiane amid pressure from low-ranking party members. The concession had been granted to a Chinese company in return for the construction of the major facilities for the games. Building work was briefly halted on the main stadium, but the sporting facilities are now approaching completion. The fate of the That Luang project remains uncertain. Meanwhile, a Vietnamese company has been granted logging and land concessions as payment for building the athletes' village.

Although games-related construction work and advertising contracts have provided a much-needed stimulus to the economy, it remains unclear whether the games will attract an audience in Laos, where there is no tradition of travelling to watch sporting events. In addition the choice of events has caused resentment among a number of participating nations, who perceive the influence of Laos's neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, on the games as potentially unfair.

© 2009 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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