Legitimation, Socialism and “New Thinking” in Laos

“Legitimation of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party: Socialism, Chintanakan Mai (New Thinking) and Reform” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1439081) by the IDE’s Norihiko Yamada, is the first of a collection of articles on Laos. That collection has been guest edited by Simon Creak and Keith Barney to be called Party-State Governance and Rule in Laos.

Yamada’s abstract states:

To date, scholars of authoritarianism have paid much attention to the use of democratic institutions in dictatorships to mitigate threats from both internal and external ruling elites, to co-opt and divide opposition and to solve commitment problems among the ruling elite. However, there have been no in-depth studies of legitimacy in an authoritarian regime. In communist states, opposition and dissent are addressed not through co-optation but exclusion. By contrast, communist parties attach great value for their survival to obtaining legitimacy from the masses. This article argues that the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) has endeavoured to acquire legitimacy since the foundation of the regime through a dialogical configuration of economic reform and socialist ideology. Economic reform and ideological legitimisation always go together, interacting with each other: economic reform requires ideological modification, and ideology defines the framework of reform. In Laos, this paradoxical configuration is necessary for the LPRP to maintain legitimacy while concurrently pursuing an ideal of socialism and reality of economic reform. In making this argument, this article reassesses the nature and significance of chintanakan mai (new thinking), which was not a formal reform policy, as often assumed, but a temporary slogan for promoting economic reforms.

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