Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (formerly known as Lao People’s Party), which was founded together with the Indochina Communist Party to expel foreign invaders from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The struggle for independence finally succeeded in 1975, which led to the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

To celebrate the party’s achievements in the past 60 years, a large gathering of senior party leaders and high-ranking party officials was held at which party secretary-general and president of the Lao PDR Choummaly Sayasone delivered the keynote address.

Choummaly praised the “people’s fighting movement” in leading the Lao multiethnic people during the two-decade campaign for national liberation. He also defined the major victories of the party after 1975: “We were able to heal the wounds of war, restore production, promote culture, and normalize the living conditions” in the country.

He asserted that the party has remained relevant because it adopted the policy of “self-construction and self-improvement to enhance its strength with endless flexibility.” He cited the so-called renovation policy of 1986 which “replaced the bureaucratically centralized economic mechanism and subsidy-based administration with a state-managed market-orientated economy.”

A “state-managed market-orientated economy” sounds like an oxymoron but Choummaly repeated it several times in his speech to emphasize that the party has “liberalized old ways of thinking towards a realistic analysis of the [global] situation” while pursuing socialist directives.

But despite Choummaly’s claim that Lao socialism has led to the empowerment of the people, his speech provided several confirmations about the high poverty rate in the country. For example, he pushed for higher productivity to end poverty in all sectors. “We have to concentrate on alleviating the poverty of local people and graduating from least developed country status and creating a fundamental foundation for our country to move towards socialism,” he said.

He added: “We have to continue to reduce the number of impoverished families to a minimum level and create the necessary infrastructure and facilities for economic development.”

Choummaly rallied his party mates to work for the continued growth of the domestic economy, calling for an average rate of at least 7-8 percent annually until 2020. And the focus of this ambitious economic plan? Choummaly enumerated the country’s expanding sectors with high growth potential such as agriculture and forestry, processing, electricity (hydropower), and transnational tourism. He also mentioned the use of new technology in agriculture and rural development to realize the twin objectives of industrialization and modernization.

Interestingly, Choummaly also spoke of integrating political ideology with the new economic initiatives. “We must view poverty alleviation in association with strengthening political ideology at the grassroots level and comprehensive rural development.”

Perhaps this statement sums up the unique “development destination” that Laos officials are envisioning in the next few years: “The move aims to realize the objective of building up large villages to become small towns in rural areas.”

Choummaly linked the ongoing integration of the diverse economies of Southeast Asian nations with the forces of change that influence the nation’s development. He warned of “new disputes,” which he said should be decisively addressed by the new generation of party leaders.

This is probably why he diligently discussed organizational concepts such as “centrally based democratic principle” and “team-based leadership principle” after advocating for greater competitiveness and market reforms in the economy.

It may not have been the intention, but Choummaly’s speech offered a succinct overview of socialism, Laos style.

Cambodia’s ‘Cyber War’ Legislation Targets Online Critics

Written for The Diplomat

Media freedom is guaranteed in the Cambodian constitution but it is undermined since the mainstream media is largely controlled by families close to the ruling party. This is not the case for online media where censorship is almost non-existent. The government, however, is already targeting regulation of the Internet, which could further restrict free speech in the country.

In 2010, only 300,000 Cambodians had access to the Internet. By 2013, however, that number had surged to almost four million, or about a quarter of the country’s population. There are now 1.7 million registered Facebook users. Suddenly, ordinary Cambodians, including those living in rural areas, have the opportunity to receive news and information provided by the political opposition and other critical voices.

The political impact of the Internet was felt in the 2013 general elections, when the opposition attributed its victory in many areas to aggressive online campaigning. In addition, community activists and dissident monks were able to maximize the online space to highlight social issues that expose government abuse, such as landgrabbing, police brutality, corruption, and deforestation.

Perhaps feeling threatened by the social media phenomenon, the government proposed two laws in 2014 that would create several layers in the bureaucracy to directly supervise the growth and management of the Internet infrastructure. The draft laws have been assailed by some critics as serious threats to media freedom, but the government insisted that the passage of these measures is necessary to protect national security and the dignity of individuals.

The draft anti-cybercrime law intends to penalize Internet content that “generates insecurity, instability, and political cohesiveness.”

Meanwhile, the draft law on telecommunications would give the government a broader mandate as industry regulator. There are fears that authorities will use this law to install surveillance equipment that would monitor the Internet activities of Cambodian citizens.

Aside from introducing these draft laws, the government has already implemented some measures designed to discourage online dissent. In October 2014, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers established the so-called “Cyber War Team” to monitor and collect information from Facebook and other websites in order to “protect the government’s stance and prestige.” Some officials also visited telecoms firms to inspect the data logs and billing records of some subscribers.

In a report published last week, the Cambodian human rights group Licadho warned against the “capricious controls” that the government is enforcing to weaken Internet freedom.

“Freedom of expression is a right that many Cambodians have never truly experienced. It comes as no surprise that as soon as Cambodians found a way to have their voices heard, the government has begun a comprehensive effort to once again silence them,” said Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator for Licadho.

But the government is undeterred by criticisms. A few days ago, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan proposed “to take legal action against the ill-intentioned and unethical persons for using social media to attack, insult and defame civil servants and government leaders.”

“Insults and defamation are not part of freedom of expression, but instead violate the rights and dignity of individuals,” he added.

Cambodia has the right to pass laws that would enhance the rights and civil liberties of its citizens. Cybercrime legislation is necessary for the overall protection of the Internet sector and its subscribers. But human rights activists are right to argue about the inclusion of provisions in the draft laws that would erode the freedom that Cambodians enjoy while using the Internet. At a minimum, the government should genuinely consult civil society and other stakeholders before developing Internet-related laws.

One Response to “Laos’ Economic Agenda”

  1. Lao PRP needs to be strayght about Laos’ revolutionary history. It actually started in 1918 by Pa Chai Vue, then Tiao Phetsarat in the 1920’s, Faidang Lo in about 1935, and Souphanouvong joined in 1940s.

    Nkajlo Vangh

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