Laos Communist Party names PM Thongloun as new leader

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(Reuters) - The Communist Party of Laos on Friday named Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith as its new secretary general, replacing retiring chief Bounnhang Vorachit, state media reported as the long-ruling party wrapped up its three-day congress.

Thongloun, 75, was elected to a five-year term as head of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee – the top post in the country.

Its party congress also chose 13 members of the Politburo, Laos’ top political body, and 71 party Central Committee members, it said.

Thongloun takes charge as the landlocked Southeast Asian country faces challenges from a potential debt default and the global impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on its fragile, $18 billion economy.

On Thursday, Thongloun outlined a new five-year socio-economic plan targeting annual economic growth of 4% up to 2025 and aims to reach annual average per capita income of $2,887 in 2025, the Vientiane Times said.

The country of more than 7 million people has a current per capita income of just over $2,500, according to World Bank data.

As prime minister since 2016 and a former foreign minister, Thongloun has been the face of the country at international events and summits, including giving addresses to the United Nations General Assembly.

He is a veteran of the old guard of the party, which first came to power after communist fighters defeated a Western-backed government to form the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975.

The same party has been in power ever since, and Laos has traditionally mirrored neighbouring Vietnam’s political system, although China’s sway has grown in recent years.

Reporting by Kay Johnson in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty