Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), with its capital in Vientiane, is a landlocked country in the heart of the Indochina peninsula that shares borders with Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, and China. Lao PDR has a total area of 236,800 square kilometers and a population of 6.5 million (July 2012 est.). The Lao make up the majority (55%) of the population, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, and other minor ethnic groups accounting for 26%.
The official national language is Lao, although French, English, and other ethnic languages are also spoken. Theravada Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Lao PDR, with approximately 90% of the population embracing the religion. Lao PDR has its roots in the ancient Kingdom of Lan Xang and was part of French Indochina until it gained its formal independence in 1953. The cessation of the Laotian Civil War in 1975 effectively ended Lao PDR’s constitutional monarchy and ushered in a period of communism that continues today.
A single-party socialist republic, Lao PDR’s only political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The National Assembly elects the president and vice president by a two-thirds vote for a five-year term. The president nominates the prime minister and Council of Ministers, subject to approval by the National Assembly, for the similar five-year term. The National Assembly also elects the President of the People’s Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor-General, on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee.
Lao PDR joined the United Nations (UN) in 1955, after gaining independence from France. Lao PDR participates in several UN specialized agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Finance Cooperation (IFC), and World Health Organization (WHO). In February 2013, Lao PDR became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Lao PDR is the last member state of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to join the WTO.