Many readers will know that the 9th Congress of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party kicked off on Thursday. It will run until early next week. As usual, the party’s lack of transparency means we can only guess at the outcomes. Most observers – in the media and among the chattering classes (the sapha kafe or Café Congress) – expect Choummaly Sayasone to be reelected as General Secretary of the party. An AFP article quoting Martin Stuart-Fox trots out familiar messages about the congress being a “power struggle” between older Vietnam-aligned forces and younger China-aligned ones. Personally I’m more convinced by those who think Politburo members recognise the importance of each country – and are happy to be wooed by both of them. Other questions such as the influence of the military and its factions are even less penetrable. Two things seem certain, in spite of Bouasone Bouphavanh’s surprise replacement by Thongsing Thammavong late last year: Laos will continue to pursue a strategy of high economic growth based on ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources and power will continue to be contested within the party, even if the party remains as stridently unchallenged as ever.

The elections of the National Assembly will follow on 30 April. A kind reader has sent in some interesting information regarding the NA candidates list for the 2011 election.

Very few of the previous NA deputies are returning as candidates – 45 of 115.

A large proportion are women – 47 of 190.

Number of seats has been increased – 115 to 132.

47 of the candidates are centrally appointed, although we know all are centrally approved.

43 of the candidates are not lowland Lao (Lao Lum).

Only one Politburo member – Mrs. Pany (Hmong), who is running for Xayabouly, not her home province of Xieng Khouang.

Just over half a dozen Central Committee members – 1) Dr. Panmalaythong (Vientiane Capital) ; 2) Dr. Kikeo (Vientiane Capital); 3) Somphanh Phengkhammy (Huaphan – home province); 4) Mrs. Bounpheng Mounphoxay (Xieng Khouang – home province); 5) Dr. Xaysomphone Phomvihane (Savannakhet; born in Huaphan); 6) Phandouangchit Vongsa (Champasak; Huaphan native).

7 of the 25 candidates in Savannakhet are Phu Tai.

16 of the 17 candidates in Champasak are Lao.

9 of the 10 candidates in Salavan are Lao.

The children of Samane Vinyakhet and Sutchai Thammasith are running as candidates. Samane’s daughter is running for a seat in Salavan where her husband’s family comes from.

An ethnic Ta-oi called Khamdeng Kommadam is running as a candidate in Xekong. He is no relation to Sithon Kommadam.

Famous lowland Lao families such as the Pholsena, Lasasimma and Soutthichak are running candidates in Champasak.