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Few Changes Expected in Laos Vote

February 24, 2002

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VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) _ One of the world’s last strongholds of communism held parliamentary elections Sunday, but the results were a foregone conclusion.

All but one of the 166 candidates for the rubber-stamp Parliament belong to the only legal party.

The candidates are contesting 106 National Assembly seats in 18 constituencies. All but one _ the current justice minister _ is from the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, or LPRP.

Polls across this impoverished, landlocked country of 5.2 million people opened Sunday morning. Results were not expected for several days because of the difficulty of communicating with the country’s many remote and mountainous areas.

``The people are pleased to have only one party, and have always had faith and trust in the party,″ President Khamtay Siphandone, a 78-year-old former jungle fighter who is the country’s most powerful political figure, said as he cast his ballot in Vientiane.

Voting was brisk at stations in the capital although some voters interviewed did not appear to have much information about the candidates.

The polls are unlikely to bring any major changes in government policy, but they will usher new faces into Parliament.

About half of the lawmakers elected in the last elections in December 1997 are not running this time, as the regime has encouraged university-educated candidates to take their place, Vientiane-based diplomats said.

The communist party seized power in 1975 after a long civil war between its guerrillas and a U.S.-backed government in Vientiane.

After a disastrous beginning, the government partially liberalized the economy but a small clique of old-time, secretive revolutionaries like Khamtay retained a stranglehold on political power.

The National Assembly’s most important duty is to scrutinize legislation but it invariably toes the line of the LPRP.

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