UPDATED at 10:45 A.M. EST on 2016-03-24
Many Laotians who went to polling places to cast their votes were apathetic about which candidates they selected to represent them in national and provincial parliaments during the one-party state’s general elections, according to voters.
About 4 million people in 18 constituencies were eligible to cast votes for the 211 candidates running in general elections on March 20 in the underdeveloped Southeast Asian nation, where only one political party—the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP)—is legally permitted to rule and has been in power for 40 years.
In all, 211 candidates were competing for 149 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, while 508 candidates were contesting 360 seats in the People’s Councils of 17 provinces and the capital Vientiane. All the candidates are either members of the LPRP or had been approved by the party.
“People in my village just went to vote at the polling station, and that’s it,” a resident of Savannakhet province in southern Laos, who declined to be named, told RFA on Monday. “They did not care who would be their representative in parliament. They did not wait to see the vote-counting as people in other countries do. They came to vote; then they went home.”
Savannakhet was the constituency with the largest number of eligible voters at 596,000, according to the country’s National Election Committee.
“After the voting, only officials remained at the polling stations, and one of them told me that the [voters] did not know who was who—which candidate was better or worse than the other,” he said, adding that black-and-white photos of the candidates were posted on notice boards or walls at the stations.
“This indicates that the elections were only following protocol, and the event was meant to show that Laos has elections,” he said.
About 592,000 people were eligible to vote in the capital Vientiane, the country’s second-largest constituency.
“Before the election, the candidates did not do any political campaigning and did not talk about their policies and visions, or what they would do for the people if they won seats,” a Vientiane resident who requested anonymity told RFA on Sunday. “Instead, they just introduced themselves to people and said what they are doing.”
The majority of representatives were selected in advance by the party, so that the candidates knew the results of the elections before the voting took place, he said.
“This is the reason why people were not interested in the election—because they saw that they would not benefit from it,” he said. “Whoever would become their representative would not make any changes that would make their lives better.”
About 10 days to tally
The results of the elections could take about 10 days to tally, as they did five years ago after the last general elections, said Koukeo Akkhamonti, chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and spokesman of National Election Committee.
He disagreed with the assertion that many voters were not interested in the elections, knowing that their representatives had been approved by the party in advance.
“The majority of people were interested and fully participated in the elections,” he told RFA on Tuesday.
“They had correct information concerning the elections, according to observations at polling stations and what they have expressed themselves through the mainstream media,” he said. “In general, the elections went smoothly without any problems.”
Akkhamonti emphasized that although some believe that voters were apathetic and did not give any thought to the candidates for whom they voted, and they have the right to do so, the election law provisions about the selection of candidates was upheld.
“And we can say everything we have done has been in accordance with the law,” he said.
Lao lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment last December 2015 giving the newly created provincial level assemblies power to review and approve major issues in their localities, supervise local administrative bodies, and adopt development plans.
Reported by RFA’s Laos Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that seats were already won, when vote counting is projected to take 10 days.