Laos is a communist state with the president as the head of state and the prime minister as the head of government. The one party socialist state gained independence from the French in 1949. The country was established as a communist People’s Republic in 1975 after the abrogation of the 1957 constitution. Under the 1957 constitution, Laos existed as a constitutional monarchy. The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party is the only legally recognized political party in Laos, whose powers in the government are not stated in the constitution. The ruling party exercises unlimited executive power over the country and makes most of the decisions unopposed. The government also receives support from the Vietnam’s People’s Army and the Lao People’s Army.
The executive of Laos consists of the president, the prime minister, four deputy prime ministers and the council of ministers, making 28 members. The president is the head of the executive with the responsibility of appointing the prime minister and the council of ministers. The appointees have to be approved by the National Assembly. Members of the executive are eligible for a five-year term. The president is also a member of the Politburo of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, an all-powerful organization that makes most of the key government decisions along with the Central Committee.
The National Assembly of Laos is a unicameral body consisting of 149 members (among them five independent candidates) who are elected for a five-year term. The National Assembly has six committees through which it performs its duties. These committees include the Law Committee, the Economy, Planning and Finance Committee, the Cultural and Social Committee, the Ethnic Affairs Committee, the National Defense and Security Committee, and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Most of the legislation made by the assembly is under complete influence from the executive branch.
Laos has a legal system similar to the civil law system of France. The People’s Supreme Court is the highest legal organ made up of the court president, vice president, and chamber judges. The court consists of administrative, civil, commercial, family, juvenile, and criminal sections. The national assembly appoints the court president and vice president upon recommendation by the president. Smaller courts in Laos include the appellate courts, provincial, municipal, district, and military courts. The president and vice-president of the People’s Supreme Court serve for five years. While the judiciary is an independent branch, executive members have a lot of influence in the cases leading to mass violations of human rights.
The current constitution was promulgated and adopted in 1991 after 16 years of the country operating without a constitution. A constitution is the official law of the country that defines the responsibilities of the government and citizens, and provides for the rights and freedoms of the citizenry. The Constitution established a unicameral parliament. The constitution was first amended in 2003 and later in 2015. Although the Constitution recognizes the rights of both minority and majority ethnic groups, most of the minorities bend to the demands of the majority and the ruling party. The Hmong are the hardest hit especially due to their participation in rebellion against the government. The absolute executive power of the government leads to constant violation of the constitution.