Country Report Laos June 2009

The political scene: Democracy index: Laos

The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2008 Democracy index ranks Laos 157th out of 167 countries, putting it among countries that are considered to be authoritarian. This designation includes a number of states in the region, such as China, Vietnam, Myanmar and North Korea. The ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is the only legal political party. Political power resides with the party's 11-member politburo and 55-member central committee. Elections are held to the National Assembly (the legislature) every five years, but only those whose candidacy has first been approved by a mass organisation of pro-LPRP groups, the Lao Front for National Reconstruction, are eligible to stand. Constitutional amendments passed in 2003 give the legislature the right to dismiss the prime minister and members of the government. However, the legislature remains subservient to the party.

The legislature's powers have increased

The National Assembly's powers have increased since the early 1990s, and its role is now one of overseeing the government. The previous system of rule by party fiat has been replaced by a system of debating and passing legislation through the National Assembly. However, the legislature remains dominated by the LPRP. A total of 175 candidates were selected to stand for the 115 seats available in the expanded legislature in the election in April 2006. Only two non-party candidates were elected. Policy formulation remains a convoluted process, compromised by vested interests and widespread corruption. The judiciary is in no sense independent from the LPRP.

The party will survive the global recession

Amid the global recession, the party may face increased opposition owing to slower economic growth, rising job losses and falling agricultural and mineral prices. However, Laos's economy is not expected to be as severely affected by the downturn as other economies in the region. There is little organised opposition to the LPRP, except among groups of foreign exiles and isolated ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong. Continued inflows of overseas development assistance will also limit any political fallout from the economic downturn.

Democracy index
 Overall scoreOverall rankElectoral processGovernment functioningPolitical participationPolitical cultureCivil libertiesRegime type
Laos2.101570.003.211.115.001.18Authoritarian
Note. Overall and component scores are on a scale of 0 to 10; overall rank is out of 167 countries.

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Note on methodology

There is no consensus on how to measure democracy, and definitions of democracy are contested. Having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is the sine qua non of all definitions. However, our index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedom and civil liberties are not "thick" enough: they do not encompass sufficiently some crucial features that determine the quality and substance of democracy. Thus, our index also includes measures of political participation, political culture and functioning of government, which are, at best, marginalised by other measures.

Our index of democracy covers 167 countries and territories. The index, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators grouped in five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are interrelated and form a coherent conceptual whole. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall index of democracy is the simple average of the five category indices.

The category indices are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries fall short in the following critical areas for democracy:

  • whether national elections are free and fair;
  • the security of voters;
  • the influence of foreign powers on government; and
  • the capability of the civil service to implement policies.

The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regimes:

  • full democracies-scores of 8 to 10;
  • flawed democracies-score of 6 to 7.9;
  • hybrid regimes-scores of 4 to 5.9;
  • authoritarian regimes-scores below 4.

The full methodology for the index and related discussion can be found at www.eiu.com/DemocracyIndex2008.

© 2009 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
Whilst every effort has been taken to verify the accuracy of this information, The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any person on this information
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