The 9th Congress of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party wrapped up yesterday after five days of mutual backslapping over the party’s “achievements” in the past five years. While the self-congratulation was entirely expected, the real business of the congress was the selection of the party Central Committee (expanded to 61 members) and Politburo on the final day. Probably the biggest news was the dumping of former PM Bouasone Bouphavanh from the Politburo (and Central Committee). Given his unexpected resignation as PM late last year this was hardly surprising – the best analysis had already suggested the change was tied to this year’s Congress. But by capping his most spectacular fall from grace, Bouasone’s ousting only adds intrigue to the unanswered question of precisely why he was forced to stand down as PM in the first place. One would never expect the Vientiane Times to answer this question but its report didn’t even mention Bouasone – despite naming the two Politburo retirees, Sisavat Keobounphanh and Saman Vinhaket, and the body’s three new members, Dr Bounthong Chitmany, Dr Bounpone Bouttanavong and Dr Phankham Viphavanh. As always, it is the silences that count most in Lao politics.

On the other hand, Thongsong Thammavong, Bouasone’s replacement as PM, has further strengthened his position in the party. With the retirement of Samane, Thongsing moved up a notch from number 3 to number 2 in the Politburo, second only to Choummaly Sayasone, who as expected was reelected party General Secretary. Perhaps as Martin Stuart-Fox intimated after Bouasone’s resignation, it was he (Thongsing) who forced Bouasone’s hand last year. Either way, it would appear that Thongsing is well-positioned to replace Choummaly next time around – although a lot can happen in five years. Just ask Bouasone Bouphavanh.