YANGON — One of the tropes the National League for Democracy will have to address before it takes office next April is the view that the party is light on concrete policies and untested in government. The latter is unavoidable, given that the army did not allow the NLD to govern after it won 80% of seats in the country’s flawed 1990 elections. As for economic policy, the party has a few ideas. “We have a plan, and we presented it in the early stages of the campaign,” said Soe Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, referring to the election manifesto the party published in September. The NLD said it will keep the budget deficit under 5% of gross domestic product, cut the number of ministries and attempt to curb corruption in the bureaucracy, crack down on tax evasion, increase the independence of the central bank and focus on boosting agricultural productivity — a particularly important step given that around 70% of the population lives in the countryside.
LUANG PRABANG — Although Laos will soon to join the World Trade Organization, in economic terms it remains very much Southeast Asia’s forgotten country, a landlocked backpacker magnet of unexploded ordnance and winding roads, nicely topped off by stunning jungle, river and mountain vistas. Lying between China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand, Communist-ruled Laos has worked off what economists like to call “a low base,” with the country’s economy averaging 7-8 percent gross domestic product growth, built on hydropower development – which has raised the hackles of international environmentalists – and a mining boom. The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) started opening slowly to the outside world in the late 1980s, around the same time as neighboring Vietnam’s doi moi or renovation reforms got underway, in which a similar one-party Communist regime slowly liberalized parts of its economy. But despite the parallel paths, Vietnam’s much bigger economy – though recently struggling with slowing growth, graft scandals and inflation – is much more diversified than that of Laos. One of the world’s poorest countries, Laos’ annual per capita gross domestic product by purchasing power parity is just US$2,700 per year, ranking it 177th in the world and well below Vietnam’s US$3,400.