172. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Kocher) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1


  • Item for Secretary’s Staff Meeting: May 4 elections in Laos2

Supplementary elections to fill 21 seats in the National Assembly were held Sunday in Laos. Complete election returns will probably not be known until about May 14. The new enlarged Assembly is not expected to convene effectively before May 20. Then it will invest a new government. Souvanna Phouma seems tired and would like a rest but he can probably succeed himself without difficulty unless Katay really wants the job and has recovered sufficiently to take it. We hope the Neo Lao Hak Sat (Communists) will be excluded from the new cabinet but if they make a strong showing in the elections it will be hard to keep them out. The best estimate still is that they will win from 4 to 6 seats.

Our Embassy notes that the Lao National Army, formerly a non-political body, has emerged during the campaign as an active political force that will have to be reckoned with hereafter.

For a while the NLHS was getting away with presenting itself as a patriotic element while the conservatives were reluctant to brand it openly as a Communist tool. Its excessive claims during the campaign however provoked the conservatives into pinning the Communist label on the NLHS and attacking it for its ties with Hanoi and Peiping.

Communist complaints of army strong arm tactics may possibly cause the ICC to stay on after the elections despite the Royal Government’s request that it withdraw.

The accelerated program of U.S. village aid was appreciated by the population but it is difficult to estimate its effect on the elections. The program was concentrated in those areas most infected by Communist propaganda. If the NLHS makes a poor showing in those areas the village aid program will deserve credit.

Our Embassy feels that if the conservatives win one of the two seats at stake in Sam Neua and Phong Saly, provinces long under Communist domination, this success might have repercussions outside Laos. This is the first time a population formerly under Communist [Page 439] control is being permitted to vote freely. Should the people openly repudiate a Communist candidate the “Lao formula” might set a precedent for the unification of other divided countries. This formula requires that political and military settlements be reached and a coalition government arbitrarily formed before elections are held. The Vietnamese Communists have already proposed the Lao formula to Ngo dinh Diem as an example. The Embassy points out that the attractiveness of this formula in other divided countries would obviously depend on each side’s estimate of its own chances of electoral success.3

  1. Source: Department of State, FE/SEA (Laos) Files: Lot 65 D 169, 350.01 Elections (Lao). Secret. Drafted by Corcoran and cleared by Parsons.
  2. This summary report was based on telegram 1851 from Vientiane, May 2, the eighth and last weekly report on the electoral campaign in Laos. (ibid., Central Files, 751J.00/5–258; included in the microfiche supplement)
  3. In telegram 1901 from Vientiane, May 11, Smith informed Robertson and Parsons that the NLHX and the allied Santiphab party would probably win 10–14 of the 21 seats up for election. Smith blamed conservative Lao politicians for failure to heed U.S. warnings about the seriousness of the Pathet Lao threat and their inability to join together in a unified slate. Smith suggested that the surprising political strengthen of the NLHX required an “urgent reappraisal of the U.S. effort in Laos.” (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–1158; included in the microfiche supplement)