(Reuters) - Laos’s Communist Party on Friday chose Bounnhang Vorachit to be its new leader after a vote by a newly formed central committee that did not include the prime minister and former party chief, signaling their political exits.
The country’s official KPL news agency said Bounnhang, the 78-year-old current vice president, won the leadership vote on Friday at the five-yearly congress of the secretive party. It did not announce the names of the new elite politburo.
The selection was anticipated by experts, who see a continuation of a status quo in which power is tightly controlled by the party while pursuing strong economic expansion, which has averaged 7.8 percent since 2011.
The outgoing party chief and president, Choummaly Sayasone, 79, who held both posts since 2006, and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, 71, were among four serving politburo members who did not apply to join the top committee, state media said.
Bounnhang was top of the list of a new 77-member central committee announced on Friday, which saw all 39 members who applied for re-election chosen.
Second on the list was National Assembly chairwoman and former central bank governor Pany Yathotu, a development that suggests a move up in the party hierarchy to be a possible prime minister, according to Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos expert and retired professor of the University of Queensland.
The prime minister and cabinet posts were not scheduled to be announced at the congress.
“The most significant promotion has been Madame Pany,” he said, adding she was now “a very powerful figure”.
State media did not say why Thongsing and Choummaly, who have been politburo members since 1991, did not seek re-election.
Laos has close political ties to communist Vietnam and mirrors its political system. Both countries are holding their five-yearly congresses this week.
Communist neighbor China has been vying aggressively for influence on Laos, however, providing scholarships, aid, loans and infrastructure investment to a fledgling $12-billion economy 862 times smaller than its own.
Growth in Laos has been driven by investment, mining and sales abroad of most its growing hydropower output, largely to Thailand. This has boosted incomes and access to electricity, telecoms and healthcare for its mostly rural population of 6.8 million.
Foreign media have not been permitted to cover the congress. A senior foreign ministry press official said there was insufficient time to invite international media.
Reporting by Martin Petty in Hanoi; Additional reporting by My Pham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez