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Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia

 

Modern Laos
AD 1975 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (AD 1975-2023)

Today's Laos is officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic (typically abbreviated to Lao PDR or LPDR). Entirely landlocked, the country sits at the heart of South-East Asia, surrounded by China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Burma to the north-west.

The country is a creation of the colonial French of the nineteenth century. Largely its territory formerly belonged to the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang, which flourished between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries AD. This state grew rich on trade which passed through it from China to the rest of the region, but internal conflict tore it apart.

Three kingdoms formed out of the collapse, those of Champasak, Luang Phrabang, and Vientiane, all of which were picked off by French colonial advances. Within these borders there are also several minority groups, which were often confined in past centuries to highlands regions. These include the Akha and Hmong peoples.

In 1893 they were forcibly merged along with Siam's province of Xieng Khouang into a French protectorate which formed part of French Indochina. The region remained a French protectorate until 1955-1956, although Laos underwent Japanese Occupation between 1940-1941 and 1945. It took place with official French permission, but then German-occupied France had no other option but to agree.

Following the expulsion of Japanese troops in 1945, the Laotian Kingdom was formed. It had a choppy beginning and then a highly disturbed period between 1959-1975, in common with much of the region. The Pathet Lao were a nominally national front which in fact was controlled by the communist 'Lao People's Revolutionary Party'. They took advantage of confusion in 1969 to assume control of Laos with Vietnamese help.

The king, Savang Vatthana, abdicated the throne in 1975, after which the monarchy as an institution was dissolved and the modern republic created. The communist government of Laos followed the typical communist model, with generally the president, chairman of the council of ministers (prime minister), and party leader sharing power. Usually, the party leader was the real power in the country.

The capital is Vientiane (Viangchan to the Laotians themselves), the country's largest city. This city with its tropical monsoon climate is located along the Mekong river, in the northern portion of the country. It was founded in the late thirteenth century, becoming the capital of Lan Xang in the mid-sixteenth century in preference to Luang Prabang (today's Louangphrabang).

Following the communist takeover and initially harsh conditions, since 1988 there has been a gradual, limited return to private enterprise. Foreign investment laws became increasingly liberalised. Laos became a member of Asean (the 'Association of Southeast Asian Nations') in 1997 and the World Trade Organisation in 2013. In the 2010s the country benefited from direct foreign investment, particularly in the natural resource and industry sectors. The construction of a number of large hydropower dams and expanding mining activities have also boosted the economy.

Laos retains its official commitment to communism and maintains close ties with its two communist neighbours, Vietnam and China, both of which continue to exert substantial political and economic influence on the country. At the same time, Laos has expanded its economic reliance on the west and other Asian countries, such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. More recently the country has been hit by the same inflationary struggles as much of the rest of the world's economies.

The dethroned king was interned in 1977, having refused to flee his country, along with his wife and four of his sons which included the crown prince. When they died there, the king's youngest son became the family head. He continued to work peacefully towards the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Laos. He and other hereditary kings are shown with a shaded background.


Laos beach huts

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), from Asia in the Modern World, Claude A Buss (Collier-Macmillan, 1964), from Kingdoms of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Gene Gurney (Outlet, 1986 (reissued 1988)), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), and from External Links: Laos (Flags of the World), and Laos (Rulers.org), and Laos (Zárate's Political Collections), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Laos (CIA World Factbook), and Exiled Laotian Prince Seeks New Role (New York Times).)

1975 - 1991

Prince Souphanouvong

President of Laos (LPRP). Absented office.

1975 - 1984?

Savang Vatthana

Former king of Laos. Died in internment camp.

1975

The real ruler of Laos until 1991 is Kaysone Phomvihan, head of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). From 1991 he governs the country as general secretary of the communist party.

King Savang Vatthana of Laos
Savang Vatthana started a term as prime minister in 1951, but succeeded his father as king in October 1959 before being forced to abdicate on 2 December 1975 due to the communist revolution within Laos

1977

Having refused to leave the country, the dethroned Savang Vatthana is arrested along with the royal family and placed in an internment camp. Only his youngest son escapes, by fleeing to Thailand. The king lives out his final years there, although there is some question about when he dies (allegedly of malaria, along with the queen and crown prince). Opinion is divided between 1978 or 1984, with the event only being declared in 1989.

1979

Food shortages and the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Thailand leads the government to modify its approach to the administration of food production and civilian life in general.

1984? - 2018

Sauryavong Savang

Youngest son. Family head, and regent. Died 2018.

1984? - Present

Soulivong Savang

Nephew and crown prince. Born 1963.

1986

Phoumi Vongvichit is made acting president on behalf of Prince Souphanouvong (who goes on permanent leave without vacating his office). The prince is officially replaced in 1991 by the country's real power and general secretary of the party, Kaysone Phomvihan. In the same year market reforms are undertaken, encouraged by Soviet reforms.

Belarussian independence in 1990
The Chernobyl disaster and the subsequent attempted cover-up by the Soviet authorities was the spark which brought down the already-fragile USSR, allowing Belarus amongst many other subject territories to gain its independence

1991 - 1992

Kaysone Phomvihan

General secretary (LPRP). Died in office.

1992

Upon the death of Kaysone Phomvihan, he is succeeded as the country's power behind the throne and party leader by Khamtai Siphandon, who has also been his successor in 1991 as chairman of the council of ministers.

1992

Khamtai Siphandon

General secretary (LPRP). Remained in command.

1992 - 1998

Nouhak Phoumsavan

Figurehead president for Siphandon.

1994 - 1995

The 'Friendship bridge' is opened across the Mekong in 1994 to link Laos with Thailand. In the following year the USA lifts its twenty-year-long embargo on the country.

1997

Crown Prince Soulivong and his uncle, Prince Sauryavong, initiate a 'Royal Lao Conference' in Seattle, USA. Over five hundred Lao exiles and representatives of the Hmong, Kmu, Mien, Thaidam, and the rest of the Laotian ethnic minority community attend. This conference establishes the 'Lao Representative Abroad Council'.

Riverside huts in Laos
Despite problems which have been inherited alongside a communist government, even one which has introduced China-style market reforms, Laos remains a place of beauty

1998 - 2006

Khamtai Siphandon

President. General secretary (1992), now in full control.

2000

In the year in which Laos officially celebrates twenty-five years of communist rule, a series of bomb blasts hits the capital, Vientiane. The authorities blame anti-government groups which are based abroad.

2006 - 2016

Choummaly Sayasone

President (LPRP).

2007

Crown Prince Soulivong Savang marries Princess Chansouk Soukthala on 10 November 2007. The ceremony takes place in Canada and is attended by eight hundred guests. The bride is a daughter of the former military prosecutor, Prince Tanh Soukthala, and Princess Bounchanh Soukthala.

2016 - 2021

Boungnang Vorachith

President (LPRP).

2021 - On

Thongloun Sisoulith

President (LPRP). First civilian leader.

 
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